The Importance of Being a Buddy

When we set up ATAO, I wanted to have a program where people could do a “light” sponsorship of the dogs. I knew that the dogs– their individual selves– were really the most interesting part to many mushing followers, and I also knew that a lot of kennels weren’t able to or didn’t provide so much insight on each dog vs on their kennel as a whole or on the musher as a personality. The entire concept of how to share a kennel was very interesting to me, because we came into it at a time when there was a lot of new changes in how it was done.

When I started mushing in 2001– and in the years leading up to that, when I was growing up surrounded by mushing in Alaska and in my particular community– the way kennels kept themselves going was through a more “Nascar-esque” model, with corporate sponsor badges plastered all over their sled bags and jackets. I liked that model: I thought it was cool! I fully imagined that was The Road to funding a kennel. As I grew and saw kennels of other sizes, it became clear that it would be difficult to get the kind of corporate sponsorship you would need to fund an entire kennel if you weren’t either competitive or unique in some way. And, if you weren’t able to do a very specific, very charming song-and-dance. I think I can be charming, in my own way, but I also think maybe there’s some part of me that is clearly unwilling to perform the song-and-dance of corporate America. I don’t know, exactly, what the reason is, but I’ve never been able to garner the kind of professional backing some kennels do. I’ve tried: I’ve approached companies and journalists and all the things, and none of that has panned out. That’s okay– That’s more than okay. It’s not the right thing for me and the dogs. And you know, where a door closes a window opens yadda yadda… When we started the kennel in 2017 we were blessed with an audience I never expected: You.

But I’ve played this song before, you know the lyrics: you know how much you have meant to ATAO and that you made it possible to run Iditarod. At least I hope you do.

Once I realized that ATAO was going to depend on small-dollar donations, I also knew what I’d always known: that I wanted that to be about the dogs, not so much about me. It’s part of my core belief about the team, that I’m just a part of it. One person who does marketing was insistent to me that I needed to sell myself more. Get rid of the kennel name; just call it Will Troshynski’s mushing team, or something. It felt all wrong to me. Maybe if I’d done that I’d have gotten more commercial support; but I don’t think I would have met you, and tbh I don’t know if I could have run Iditarod, in that case. At the very least, I don’t think I could have done it feeling like and being myself, authentically. You allowed that. I’m so effing grateful.

Individual, one-on-one dog sponsorships were very in vogue by the time ATAO began. A high-dollar amount per dog. I wanted to offer something that wasn’t so gate-kept by money, that would let people cheer on their favorite teammates, etc etc.

We chose the name Buddy, at last, for the program, and the more it’s unfolded the more it’s felt right. Buddy is a word I’ve gotten to like more and more. There’s something gentle about it, kind. To me, it feels like a term of endearment but equality, when said between friends. (I know not everyone feels like this, and that’s understandable! For me, it works.) It’s gender-neutral. It’s– Embracing. Welcoming. I’ll have to think more about why this connotation all works for me, but it does. I love that supporters can consider themselves Buddies of our teammates, and that our teammates are Buddies of them. It’s a two-way street.

Running a thousand mile sled dog race means you confront yourself in the wilderness, in the difficulty. I knew that was going to be so. I was ready for it in so much as I was not at war with myself as I had been from adolescence til my mid-twenties. Me and myself had a tentative treaty. It had been that way for a decade; but a hair-trigger-truce would not get us to the finish line.

Out in the wild, while the dogs ran, I started talking to myself for the first time in years. I had never been able to do positive self-talk. The idea was laughable. Silence was the best we could achieve. On Iditarod, I started calling myself “buddy.”

I don’t know that it even occurred to me, about you, the Buddies of our team. How this was the same word. How the kindness and gentleness was the same. How it was a term of support, now, in our team.

Calling myself “buddy” was the most kind I’ve ever been to me. It got me through the race.

Me and myself, we’re back at tentative peace, but you know, there was that interregnum where we were equals, supporters. Mutual teammates on the field. And I think in some ways that came from you, from the hundreds of Buddies of the dogs, who uplift and support this team, player by player. Who channel enthusiasm and love, and bolster the project of being a pack. Of surviving. Of succeeding.

Random thoughts of the day– not even what I came here to say– but thank you again, Buddies, for being part of this team.

(If you want to be a Buddy this is how.)

  1. Neva
    | Reply

    This post makes my heart happy. I’m so glad to be a small part of your journey. Onward, friends!

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