Monday, March 14, 2011

Interview with Author Liz Parrish

Liz Parrish had three goals: train her own dog sled team, complete the Iditarod for her 50th birthday, and have fun! Liz and her team finished the 2008 Iditarod in 14 days with 14 dogs, despite being “Iditarod’s Littlest Musher.”

Read ‘Be the Lead Dog’ and take it to heart! Everything is here that you need to accomplish the impossible in your life. Then go hug your own dog if you are lucky enough to have one and tell them thanks, you now get it.” – Brian Tracy

Hello Liz. You wrote a children’s book called Crimp! On-By!! Please tell us about it.

The full title of Crimp's book is Crimp! On-By!! The True Story of a Most Unlikely Iditarod Lead Dog, and that pretty well sums it up. Crimp is an incredible soul who is named for the crimp in his nose, resulting from a horrific injury when he was only 4 weeks old. When I first met him about 3 weeks later, it was a miracle he was still alive, but clearly so disfigured that he couldn't be a sled dog. Except we all forgot to tell him that. So the book chronicles his life, adventures and coming of age and achieving his destiny to be a lead dog in Iditarod.

I actually wrote this book first, because Crimp was such an inspiration to me as I worked toward my Iditarod dream. He demonstrates that you don't have to be perfect to accomplish your dreams, particularly important to me as I struggled with a bad scoliosis resulting from cancer treatments I received as a child. I felt his message was so important to get out to youngsters today who need inspiration, good role models and to see the results of determination and following your dreams.

Since the book is a true story, it is illustrated with photos, and our book designer did a wonderful job of weaving it all together. The book is told from Crimp's perspective, and his narrative is structured such that 3rd - 5th graders can read it on their own. Younger children love having the book read to them while they look at the pictures, and older youth and adults can go more in depth with sidebars of sled dog and racing information. 

You have two books published. Be The Lead Dog was co-authored with Barb Schaefer. Will you please tell us about this self-help book?

Be the Lead Dog distills the essence of decades of experiential teachings that Barb and I have received...from our amazing sled dogs! The dogs have had a profound impact on both our lives -- myself in preparing for and accomplishing and completing the Iditarod to celebrate my first half-century, Barb in preparing her to support her husband's successful battle with stage IV throat cancer. The dogs can do this because their gifts make them perfect teachers for humans: they mirror without judgment, how we are living our lives and the congruency (or lack thereof) between our thoughts, words and actions. Once we realized that the book practically wrote itself. The hard part was picking the stories with which to illustrate the lessons, because there were so many to choose from.

There are “7 Life-Changing Lessons Taught By Sled Dogs.” Will you please share these lessons with us?

Linda, the seven lessons are Trust, Drive, Focus, Patience, Transparency, Self-Assurance, and Perseverance. Let me use Trust as an example. Each lesson is defined, described with both the benefits as well as how the sled dogs embody that lesson, and then Action Tips are provided for the reader to engage with the lesson and apply it to their own life. Barb and I also each provide a story demonstrating the power of the Lesson. My story of Trust is as follows:

The very first year I had my team, I had nine young dogs that I was training from scratch. One of the more experienced dogs was a 3-year-old named Oslo. Oslo was your typical team/wheel dog, always willing to go but lacking the confidence to lead. In fact, Oslo was not a very confident dog at all, either with other dogs or with people. He paid attention to me because I brought his food and his harness, but if I had neither, he was not too interested in me or what I was doing. Since I did not spend any time teaching him to lead, our relationship was limited at best.

That first winter we ran out of snow early, and I did not want to stop training, so I thought up different things to teach the dogs in their dog yard. One of these was learning to jump up on their doghouses. Some dogs loved getting on their houses and lived up there; others thought they would die if their feet left the ground. Oslo was one of those dogs, and you could see the fear in his eyes and body. With nothing else to do, we worked on it daily. I bribed, coaxed, commanded, cajoled, and even physically put him on top of his house. I lured him with treats to no avail (this was the dog who would have easily won the kennel gluttony award). For days, weeks, and months we worked on his fear. Finally, after three months, one day I said “Hup!” and he took the literal leap of faith…and lived! He was so very happy and proud of himself, and I gave him all sorts of praise and treats.

The truly marvelous outcome was the new relationship he and I developed out of this exercise. Oslo had worked it out in his own mind to Trust me, and once he did, I was now somebody important in his life. He relished my attention and praise. He came running when I called. It was amazing to see the change that simply breaking through the fear had made. A few years later when I placed him with a recreational team, he took another huge step, and now leads their team, with gusto and confidence, and is having the time of his life!

What a wonderful example! Can you tell us one of your most interesting adventures with sled dogs?

Picking just, that's a hard call! OK, well one that comes to mind was earlier in my training. Crimp had by then worn me down and insisted on being a sled dog, and a leader, and we were in our first 200 mile race. We were in some very rugged, high and incredibly mountainous country, and an incredible blizzard blew in -- wind howling, snow swirling, and Crimp was having a blast up front. Problem was, I couldn't find another dog on the team willing to run up front with him, into the teeth of the storm. The dogs were willing to put their heads down and go, so long as someone else did the heavy lifting of facing the storm and picking the trail.

Since the dogs are hooking to the sled in pairs, one pair behind the other, I had no extra spots -- SOMEBODY had to run up front as co-leader with Crimp. I went through all my leaders on the team, one after another, and they all would be fine back in the team, and wilt when I put them up in lead beside Crimp. The storm continued to intensify, more snow fell, blew and drifted, and we weren't making much progress. I ran out of trained leaders and so one of the ways to apply the “Lessons” is to be willing to try something new. So I tried the other dogs on the team too.

Finally, the last dog on the team to try was a little girl named Sandy. I'd occasionally tried her up in lead, but she was sort of an ADHD dog...much better as a cheerleader back in the team rather than shouldering the responsibility of leading, so I didn't really have any expectations she would do it. But I was out of options. So I put Sandy up front -- and it was as if she, and the team, transformed before my eyes. She was as gung-ho to drive into the storm as Crimp was -- kept looking back and smiling as if to say "Can it really be this much fun?" We started moving again, and it was hard work breaking trail through all the drifted soft snow. We finally got through the worst of it up in the mountains, and started to descend to the half-way checkpoint. Since we had broken trail, teams behind us had a much easier time, and one of them caught up with us, passed us, and then stopped when they had to work their way through the soft drifted unbroken trail in front of us. Literally stopped a few feet in front of us -- mutinied on their musher and there was nothing he could do to get them to go. So I called out to Crimp and Sandy "Alright! On-By!!", and we chugged around them and continued on our way, and his dogs gladly fell in right behind my sled. He avoided the embarrassment of having that happen again, and didn't try to pass me all the way to the checkpoint. ;-)

Thanks, Liz. This has been an enlightening interview. I learned so much. I was impressed when I read that you wanted to train your own “sled dog” team and complete the Iditarod for your 50th birthday. You are an example of fortitude. Way to go! Since the Iditarod Sled Dog Race started the first Saturday in March, this week the Iditarod will still be going and the finisher's banquet will be in Nome on March 20th.

To learn more, you may click on the following websites:
Liz Parrish, Iditarod's Littlest Musher
Life...Through Dogs
Showing people of any age how to live their full potential by sharing the life lessons taught by sled dogs

Crimp! On-By!! The True Story of a Most Unlikely Iditarod Lead Dog, an Amazon Bestseller

Be the Lead Dog, 7 Life-Changing Lessons Taught by Sled Dogs, an Amazon Bestseller


susan said...

Your dogs are so wonderful..I love these dogs and love to read all I can about them. Love the sound of your books and sure would love to be able to win them..I am here to try. I am very much an animal lover but sled dogs and how smart they are really amazes me. susan Leech said...

Sounds like a GREAT story! I've switched over from buying my daughter books on mystery and witchcraft to those about relationships with dogs (Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, etc.). I hope she finds the same closeness with her pets that I had growing up with mine! OH, and thanks to Jen Walker for letting everyone know about the book and the giveaway this week! I hope it helps your book promotion!!

karenk said...

a wonderful posting...would love to read this inspirational book...thanks for the chance :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Anonymous said...

Those sound like wonderful books. Someday I think it would be wonderful to get to Iditarod. I love dogs and am looking forward to reading those books. I really enjoyed your interview with the author. Thank you! Linda

Linda Badurek

Elizabeth Morgan said...

Those books sound wonderful! I think anyone who races Iditarod is amazing.

Jennifer said...

I love the idea of life lessons related to sled dogs.
Here in NH a big sled dog race is held every winter. We've seen them practice in the summer and fall. The dogs seem to enjoy every moment they are running together.
jryder416 at yahoo dot com

apple blossom said...

sounds like an interesting book

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Anonymous said...

I would love either book - what an interesting thing to do and write about. I have 2 huskies, and they are great dogs, though not for everyone. And thanks for doing these giveaways - what a nice way to share!

Shawna Pugmire anmlvrami(at)yahoo(dot)com

Meredith said...

These books sound great! I love dog stories!

meredithfl at gmail dot com

Linda Weaver Clarke said...

Congratulations, Susan Leech. You are the winner of Liz's book. I know you'll enjoy her book. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by. Don't forget that each Monday I have a new interview and book giveaway.