The day of the yearly dogsled race had arrived! Jody was up early and put on her warmest clothes. She smelled hot cereal as she walked into the kitchen. “Oatmeal again?” she asked, wrinkling her nose.
“You’ll need it on this cold day,” said her mother.
Jody filled a blue ceramic bowl with the hot oatmeal, put milk and brown sugar on it, and began to gulp it down.
“You don’t have to eat so fast,” Mom said. “The race isn’t for an hour yet.”
Jody tried to calm down, but her stomach wouldn’t stop fluttering. “I sure want to win those ice skates,” she said. She pictured herself gliding over the ice, then twirling into a spin like the professionals. But first she needed some skates.
After breakfast Jody put on another sweater, a hat, scarf, gloves, and her green parka. She tied a cotton bandanna loosely around her neck. If a cold wind blew off the lake, she could pull it up over her nose and mouth for warmth.
“Bye, Mom,” Jody said, kissing her mother.
Mom hugged Jody and wished her good luck. Jody bounded out the door and into the garage, where she pulled her small sled from a corner. The sled was old and scarred, but it would serve. Besides, it was the dog that counted, and Jody had managed to get the best. Ellie Manning had said that she could use her beautiful collie, Tasha. The dog had pulled lots of sleds, and Ellie would be there to encourage Tasha from the sidelines.
When Jody knocked on the Manning door, Ellie’s mother answered. “Hello, Jody,” she said quietly.
“Is Ellie ready?”
Mrs. Manning shook her head. “I’m sorry, Jody. Ellie has a sore throat and can’t go out in this cold.”
Jody’s smile faded, and she struggled not to cry. Then Ellie came into the foyer. “I’m sorry, Jody,” she said. “Mom doesn’t want me to get really sick like I did last winter.”
“That’s OK,” Jody said. Her stomach had a hollow ache in it.
“You can still use Tasha, if you like,” Ellie offered.
Jody’s heart leaped to her throat. “I can? Oh, thank you, Ellie! I promise I’ll take good care of her.”
Ellie whistled, and the collie ran to her. Jody laughed when Tasha crouched excitedly like a puppy, her back end sticking up.
“Good luck,” Ellie called as Jody and Tasha went out the door, where Jody fastened the sled harness onto Tasha.
When Jody arrived at the racecourse that circled the lake, only ten other contestants were there. The bitter cold and biting wind had probably kept others from competing.
Jody pulled her bandanna up over her mouth and nose. Carefully she lined Tasha up with the other dogs, then gave the collie a biscuit and waited for the race to begin.
The whistle blew, and they were off. Tasha ran bravely and boldly. “Good girl,” Jody called, coaxing the dog to go faster.
Jody looked back to see how the other racers were doing. A few dogs, shivering in the cold, hadn’t budged. One large black dog was going in the opposite direction! Only three were making any progress at all.
They passed the quarter- and half-mile marks, where small groups of hardy rooters cheered them on. At the three-quarter-mile mark, Jody felt Tasha slow down. She glanced at the snow and saw traces of blood. “Oh, Tasha! What’s wrong, girl?” She stopped the sled and knelt to look at the collie’s paws. One was bleeding quite a bit. She must have stepped on a sharp piece of ice or something! Jody thought. Looking back, she saw that none of the other sleds were even close to her! She could easily win the race since there was only a quarter mile to go! Then she looked again at the injured paw. Remembering her promise to Ellie, Jodi prayed, “Heavenly Father, please help me make the right choice. I want to help Tasha, but I’m so close to winning the skates …”
When Jody stood, she knew what she had to do. She took off her bandanna and tied it around Tasha’s paw. Then she put the collie onto the sled and pulled her to the Mannings’ house.
“Thank you for bringing her home,” said Mrs. Manning after Jody explained what had happened. “If you hadn’t stopped, Tasha might have been permanently injured. We’ll call the veterinarian right away.”
Jody’s tears wet her face on the way home. She knew that she had made the right choice, but it still hurt to have come that close to winning the race and then have to drop out. When she got home, she changed out of her damp, cold clothing.
Later, while she was making some hot chocolate, her mother came into the kitchen with a big box in her hands. “This is for you,” she said.
Jody’s heart leaped when she opened the box and saw a pair of ice skates with sparkling blades. “Did you buy them, Mom?”
Her mother shook her head. “Mrs. Manning called the judges and told them what happened. Then they called me. They decided to award you the skates because none of the other contestants got as far as you and Tasha did.”