On the weekend, I was asked to help time and score the Pee Wee, Mini Pee Wee and Pee Wee Canicross races at the NVSDC Classic. These races, for children aged 7-11, under 7 and under 14 respectively, are a short run, often with a parent driving the rig or scooter, after all the adult racing is done. This is the second year that Sixteen Feet has sponsored this class, and my feeling that it's the most important class running grows stronger every race.
The Mini Pee Wees, aged as young as 3 months, with babies strapped into their capsules and car seats, start out as just a bit of fun for parents. It's like dressing the baby up for a special event they won't remember or understand. But as the child gets older, the Mini Pee Wee and Pee Wee races become an important part of building our sport.
Unlike adult races, time traditionally doesn't count in a Pee Wee race. After all, many of the racers are running older dogs, there's a combination of rigs and scooters, there are older children running on their own against adults with babies on their rigs. Times would be heavily varied and generally unfair.
Instead, at the Classic, these children's races are a point score, with points given for safety gear, manners, track etiquette and dog care. Other clubs use similar systems and emphasize participation rather than winning.
Its wonderful to see children improve every year, as they get more capable and articulate. They become comfortable chatting to the "Start Chute Officials", who give them all a chance to say please and thankyou. They become skilled at talking to their dogs, which might sound easy, but as an adult novice, I remember feeling very uncertain, feeling quite silly talking to my dog out on the track. And we know that they will never turn up at the start chute as a junior without a helmet.
The smiles on the kids' faces as they came over the finish line were blazing. They were thrilled to be moving fast and bumping down the track. They loved getting out there with their parents and their dogs. They had been waiting all weekend for their turn, and none of them were disappointed. Many of them will grow up and express a preference for another sport or another activity or their studies, and spend less time at the racing in their teenage years. Hopefully, enough of them will remember the thrill of riding that rig or scooter over the line, to consider keeping up with or coming back to the sport in years to come.
I was especially impressed this year, standing at the finish chute, to see a parent bring a child back after completing the race, "to cheer your class home." The value of sportsmanship is often mentioned in sled dog racing, but this was really living those values, modeling them for our children and ensuring the future of our sport.