Freshman and his Huskies hit the trail

Two inches of mud and slush splatter beneath a pair muck boots. The air is warm, but the snow on the ground says otherwise about the temperature. Long before the 45 Alaskan Huskies are in sight they interrupt the silent air.
They bark with yelps of joy as they catch sight of their musher. Yanking at their chain link leashes, they try to get closer to him. He walks up to each and every one of them, giving them love and affection as if they were his one and only priority in the world. Stroking their soft velvety fur with a warm and comforting hand, he says their names, acknowledging their importance to him.
That’s just another day in the life of freshman Spencer Bruggeman.
“Most of my life centers around the dogs,” Bruggeman said. “[Racing] is challenging, and it’s fun to see myself progress.”
On Fridays after school, he and his father pack up their gear and drive to King’s Hill. Between 2-3 a.m., they hit the trails, running up to 25 miles with the dogs. Temperatures of -40 to 10 degrees is the best time to run the dogs, Bruggeman says.
The dogs have a thick coat of fur, and heat is not their friend, so Bruggeman says he tries to avoid warmer days as much as possible.
This makes summer the dogs’ off-season, but while they’re relaxing Bruggeman takes over their duties. Like his dogs, he tries to stay in shape for the races; in the summer Bruggeman swims to keep in shape.
“I’m very little to [the dogs], because most dog sledders are big old men,” Bruggeman said.
Having so many dogs is a major responsibility, and the Bruggeman family has no problem keeping up with it all.
In the mornings, Bruggeman’s father, Brett, feeds the dogs, and in the evenings Bruggeman and his brother feed the dogs for the second time. The Huskies eat 11,000-15,000 calories each per day, he said. That’s a combination of one pound of meat, one pound of dry dog food, and an addition of extra fat.
“It costs more to feed the dogs than it does the family,” says Suzette Bruggeman, Spencer’s mother.
Bruggeman prepares for his big races with practice — a lot of practice. Running 10-20 miles a day, three days a week, for two hours per day, he and his dogs aim to get better each time. With rest, sled dogs can run up to an infinite number of miles, says Bruggeman, and without rest they can go up to 100 miles.
Practice doesn’t just mean running, but also mentally preparing for a race, he added. Sometimes during a race a musher and his/ her team will get only three hours of sleep.
Despite the hard work and hours, Bruggeman said for him the sport is relaxing.
“[It] helps me be able to handle stress,” he said.
When you are out there you have to know “whatever happens happens,” Bruggeman said.
His choice to compete as a musher came from both a love of dogs and interest in the sport to a physical reality.
Born with his left leg smaller than his right, Spencer isn’t able to do the same sports as his brothers. In 2012, while reading the book “Call of the Wild” by Jack London, Bruggeman decided that sled dog racing would be something he wanted to try; it is something his leg is not able to keep him from doing.
At the same time he was reading the novel, his father was reading a book on the Yukon and the gold rush and how the men used sled dogs to transport their goods from place to place. Both of their readings gave them the idea to start a sled dog team.
Their goal is to compete in the Alaskan Iditarod when Spencer reaches the age requirement.
“Since I can’t be good at a sport, it feels good to excel at sled dog racing.”