Kristin Knight (SCA, ’06) gave up her dream job to get back in the field. When she told us her SCA internship figured in her decision, we had to find out more.
What inspired you to get involved with SCA?
I was graduating from the University of Montana and had always wanted to go to Alaska. I knew that SCA was an awesome way to get my foot in the door to work for the National Park Service, but also that it would be a way to do something I’d never otherwise get to do. I had received my degree in photojournalism and knew I could get a job at a newspaper or sitting behind a desk as an intern somewhere, but I figured it was my last summer to really strike out and do something different.
When I made it to the interview stage at the Denali National Park Sled Dog Kennels, an excitement brewed within me like never before. Not only would I get to change my life’s history by working there, I’d also get to live history by working there. By teaching people about the importance of the dogs in preserving Denali’s wilderness, I took them back to frontier times and showed them how some things are best left unchanged.
What are your favorite memories of your SCA experience?
The first time I got to ride the demo sled – a wheeled replica of the wooden basket-style sleds used during the park’s inception – my heart was pounding. I had gotten to choose my own five-dog team, made up of those I trusted most. As soon as my coworkers and I walked out of the kennels building with those old leather harnesses in hand, the dogs began to perk up. The moment we clipped the harnesses into the tugline, they began to wail and bark. It was go time!
We ran to each dog’s house and grabbed their collars, hustling back to the tugline and sled. After the dogs were clipped into their harnesses, I walked behind the sled and stood nervously on the runners. I clamped one foot down tenaciously on the track brake – I did not want to be going any faster than I had to! I looked at Bridget, out in front of the line, and gave her the OK to release the lead dogs. The word “Ready?” had barely escaped my lips as we exploded into a spray of gravel and a blur of speed. The sound of the barking dogs was immediately replaced with the shoosh and whir of the sled flying around the corner. As we finished the loop and came to a stop in front of the empty bleachers, the smile was permanently spread over my face. The next time I did it, it was in front of 200 people. I was hooked.
My second favorite memory of my SCA experience was when the puppies were born in early August. Every day we watched them grow, fed them, weighed them, taught them little things. I witnessed their birth. I witnessed their personalities develop into shy or greedy or energetic or needy. Every one of them became an individual. Once, I had a little girl ask me if I knew the names of ALL 30 dogs in the dogyard. I told her of course I did! She asked how I could tell them apart. I asked her, if she lined up 30 of her friends in a row, would she be able to tell them apart? Would she know all their names? She nodded yes. I explained to her that it was the same way with the dogs. Each one was so different from the other that you could tell them apart blindfolded, by their barks. Each one was a friend.
How did SCA help you get to where you are today?
My experience with the SCA was invaluable. I had driven to Denali from Montana, five straight days of driving. I was closer to Russia than I was to my friends and family. I learned how to say yes to new experiences, even if they were far away. Even if they were foreign to me. I learned that I was capable of really anything. I learned how to mush dogs and give them shots. I learned how to do woodworking and built everything from a doghouse to an outhouse. I learned that opportunities arise for a reason, and that each one builds a different segment of your character and exercises new strengths. Because of all those things, I went on to become an award-winning outdoors reporter for my local newspaper, then the executive editor of an outdoor magazine at age 25.
It seemed as though I was at the top of my career and right where I should be, but I knew in my heart I couldn’t spend 40 hours a week behind a desk. So I went out on a limb and quit. And now I’ll be working as a field instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School, teaching others how to protect and preserve the wilderness, just like Denali’s sled dogs. I couldn’t have mustered the strength to make this change without the solid foundation of past experiences like those with SCA backing me up.
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