TAPIOLA, Mich. (WJMN) – When the Upper Peninsula is home to the UP200, Midnight Run and Jack Pine Sled Dog Races and the CopperDog 150, 80 and 25, it’s no surprise that college students spend their free time getting into the sport.

Tom Bauer, the Otter River Sled Dog Training Center and Wilderness Adventures has been working as the host site for the Michigan Technological University Mushing Club for about five years.

“I think I’ve had two students out of a hundred maybe that have had dog sledding experience in the past and they come from all different backgrounds,” said Bauer. “We’ve got one student that’s actually from Covington that’s a senior this year. We had a gal that graduated last year who is from Las Vegas. A young man who graduated last year that was from Chicago. They’re from all over the United States.”

“My dad is an MTU alumni and he sent me an article about I think from like the their first year about the mushing club and was like, ‘Hey, you should check this out.,’ said MTU Mushing Club Member, Suzie Harris. “And as a kid, I always wanted to run sled dogs. Like I thought the Iditarod was the coolest thing in elementary school.”

This is Harris’ third year with the club. They have competed in both races like the CopperDog and also behind the scenes as a handler.

When Local 3 took the trip to Otter River Sled Dog Training Center, Harris was helping the Witt family visiting from Decorah, Iowa experience the magic behind sled dog racing. Daughter, Stella was in her element being around all of the pups.

“This was a Christmas gift,” said Craig Witt. “We wanted to come up and do a little do sledding.”

“I thought it was a great time honestly,” said August Witt. “I was the one steering the sled and she [Stella] was the one just sitting down in it. It’s another experience honestly. Just, you’re going fast with the dogs, you’re just there with the dogs. It’s humble, it’s fun, just having a great time.”

With three teams associated with the MTU Mushing Club racing in the 90 mile Midnight Run, just like Harris was behind the scenes helping the Witt family, they’ll be on hand helping their team throughout the Midnight Run.

“For me, I’m really excited to watch people do the race,” said Harris. “So, I think the Midnight Run is really cool because it runs all through the night and it’s more of an intense race. I feel like some races, you get day breaks. So I feel like it’s really cool to like to watch club members like put so much time to put into a really intense race like this.”

Bauer is one the mushers in the Midnight Run and he knows these races very well.

“I was in the first UP200 in 1990,” said Bauer. “It was kind of what sucked me into dog sled racing was going and racing that race and having some success in it and due to the help of two awesome veterinarians, Tom Cooley and Dennis, I got through that race looking pretty good.”

What keeps Bauer doing this, is the natural beauty of the sport.

“You know, people ask me or they tell me, ‘Boy, these dogs really love to do this,’ said Bauer. “Ya know, and I’m like, ‘I think they do. I hope they do. I really do.’ I don’t know really what the dogs feel, but I know they sometimes, I guess they have to because this is triggered in them. This is what they were born to do. And they just do it naturally and it’s so much fun to have this experience with a group of dogs where you’re the coach and you’re the leader and you’re one of the team. It’s an eight dog race, but I always feel like the team too.”

Just like the Witt family experienced sled dog racing, others can too. For more information about Otter River Sled Dog Training Center and Wilderness Adventure, click here.

For more information about the MTU Mushing Club, click here.