3. Iditarod

Dog team at the 2009 ceremonial start

Image via Wikipedia

They’re Off


And chosen to lead the Iditarod –  ‘Last Great Race on Earth – is double mastectomy survivor DeeDee Jonrowe. 

This year’s field in the Iditarod is one of most experienced in  race history, and includes

  • Four time (and current) Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey, a cancer survivor.  Lance’s achievement has come in four consecutive years
  • He is joined by five times Iditarod Champion Rick Swenson
  • four times Iditarod Champ Martin Buser (originally from Switzerland)
  • 2004 Champion Mitch Seavey (one of famous Seavey family of mushers)

State wide coverage of the start will be provided by GCI Channel 1 and simulcast on
the Alaskan Rural Communication Service. National and international live streaming coverage of the
start will be broadcast on the Iditarod Insider at www.iditarod.com.

What makes this race so exciting ?

It is really man (or woman) against some of the harshest weather Mother Nature can throw at anyone.  For the next 1000+ (1,800 Kms) racers and their teams of 16 dogs are on their own.  Moose might be encountered (two dogs were killed in recent race when attacked), running across frozen rivers ice can open up, temperatures can reach – 60 degrees – and if that’s not enough, you are trying to beat all the other competitors on the trail.

Fans come from across the world, and if you are following this at home, browsers hit the race site 24 hours a day:  www.iditarod.com

Just reading leader boards during the race gives you some idea of the battle that goes on day and night across the snows of Alaska. Looking at one day during last year’s race, I see

“currently Lance Mackey is still in the lead, but with only 11 dogs.  He is dropping few minutes when he stops by at a check-point – just time enough to tend to his dogs, before he presses on again. Currently he has just arrived – and left White Mountain check point.

Jeff King coming up behind has just arrived at Elim, nearly two hours behind – but he has 12 dogs.  He had built up a massive lead of half a day, but that has been whittled down, and currently he has been overtaken by Lance Mackey, winner of the last three Iditarods.  Mackey took an incredible seven minutes at one post, before whipping back to continue on the trail.

But Hans Gatt is right behind him – Gatt was almost as fast as Mackey, in and out of Kaltag, the last race post when he took a lightning fast 14 minutes stop before racing back on the trail.  Ally Zirkle, first woman, has dropped down to mid-teens.  Don’t ignore previous winner Martin Busser – creeping up from mid-20s to figure at No. 13 currently, and with 15 dogs”.

And this is when lack of sleep can cause the most experienced musher to make mistakes – and with the pack snapping at your heels, a few seconds can make a big difference.  The mushers will be depending even more on having a really savvy leader.   These dogs are part of a musher’s life, and last year Musher Savidis withdrew because Whitey, one of his best dogs, slipped his harness and took off.  Good news was that Whitey was found after a massive air search,  and re-united with Savidis.

Commentary goes on 24 hours a day, so www.after-cancer.com/iditarod will be filling in fans from around the world with a laywomen’s view of what’s going on – what all the words mean, and how the leaders are keeping up.

Cancer is no bar to taking part

Obviously you should be fit, but although the Mushers take enormous care of their dogs, giving them the best food and attention they can, they don’t seem to worry much about themselves – in fact each year there seem to be more and more cancer survivors who decide to run, even putting off chemo treatment to take part in the race.

Last year, one cancer survivor, Pat Moon from Chicago-area, was forced out of the Iditarod dogsled race by injuries suffered in a crash. Pat had to be airlifted out of a remote gorge after slamming into a tree, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Moon was undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and felt he was off to a good start after four days in the 1,049-mile race in Alaska.  “I had 15 happy healthy dogs and we were running exactly as we had planned,” he said. Then the tree appeared – however, he vows to be back.

Runners to look out for

1 Tom Busch 2011 Honorary Musher
2 DeeDee Jonrowe Willow Alaska
3 Ray Redington, Jr. Wasilla Alaska
6 Newton Marshall St. Anne Jamaica
11 Martin Buser Big Lake Alaska
15 Bob Storey Auckland New Zealand
17 Lance Mackey Fairbanks Alaska
21 Dallas Seavey Willow Alaska
22 Magnus Kaltenborn Lillehammer Norway
28 Mitch Seavey Seward Alaska
29 Judi Currier Fairbanks Alaska
37 Karin Hendrickson Willow Alaska
38 Wattie McDonald Stonehaven Scotland
49 Rick Swenson Two Rivers Alaska
50 Heather Siirtola Talkeetna Alaska

So what’s the end result like?

Penny Evans, one of Lance Mackey’s British fans, commenting on last year’s race says “his arrival in Main Street Nome was greeted with thunderous applause from the spectators and his adoring fans.  Their darling driver with his team of sled dogs had won the 1,000 mile Iditarod Race from Anchorage for the record-breaking fourth consecutive time, in a total of 8 days, 23 hours and 58 minutes.

30 year old Lance Mackey comes from a famous family of “mushers” …. his father Dick Mackey was a founder of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, and won the race in 1978 by one second over rival musher Rick Swenson.

Lance’s half-brother, another, another Rick, won in 1983.  Incredibly, all three ran under the Bib number 13 and won on their sixth attempt.  In 2010 Lance once again proved his ability to not only manage and drive his team through some of the toughest of terrain, but also, that strategy plays a huge part in this test of human and canine strength.  His fans may adore him, and though popular with his fellow competitors, so many times Lance has outwitted them on the trails.   Lance’s wife Tonya is also a musher, and with their four children run their Comeback Kennel in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throat Cancer survivor

Long distance sled dog racing is not, however, the only adversity that Lance Mackey has faced in his life.  Diagnosed with throat cancer in 2001 he refused to give in and continued his sled dog racing, even entering the 2002 Iditarod race. Although now considered cancer-free he still needs constant supplies of water for his throat – not an easy feat out on the trail in minus 60 temperatures.  Also, after nerve damage caused by an operation to remove a cancerous tumour, he chose to have a finger surgically removed rather than continue in unbearable pain.

But that’s the facts …. what about the man?  Penny says, “I met him in that same street in Nome Alaska in 2008.  Lance had already won both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in that year and had just finished 3rd in the 408 mile race from Nome to Candle and back to commemorate the centenary of the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race – the first sled dog race in the world. It was four o’clock in the morning, minus 30 degrees but this meeting is a memory I shall never forget, such is his charisma.

So what makes him the darling of the sled dog world? This unassuming man is the most generous person you can imagine – the David Beckham of the Sled Dog Racers – a gentleman and a wonderful ambassador of the sport.  At the finish line when you would imagine a bath and a bed were the only things on his mind, he stopped and talked to everyone.  We were lucky enough to be introduced to him as “his No.1 Fans from Europe” … at that time not a great accomplishment as we were the ONLY Europeans who had travelled to watch the race.

He happily chatted about our dogs – we also own sled dogs and race and show them in the UK – had his photograph taken with us and even gave us one of his dog boots.  Okay, okay, perhaps a sweaty dog boot that has covered 408 miles is not what everyone would want, but one of Lance’s .. well that’s different, trust me!”

And at the finish line, Lance said “I like revelling in being the first in Iditarod history to win four in a row”.  And he vows to be back again in 2011

Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Men and Women can get breast cancer, and the ‘average’ woman is now considered to have a one in eight chance of developing it during their lifetime, wherever they live in the world.

This British based charity quietly gets on with funding research, with results that benefit patients all over the world.  It also lobbies the UK Parliament very effectively, and keeps members of Parliament fully aware of current issues and research.

Dr. Rachel Greig, Senior Policy Officer, says “some risk factors, such as getting older, cannot be changed but the good news is that others can.  By drinking less, maintaining a healthy weight and getting physically active, women can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.”

Lance Mackey’s website: http://www.mackeyscomebackkennel.comRace reports:  http://after-cancer.com/cancer-news-latest/iditarod-toughest-race-on-earth/ Iditarod official site:   www.iditarod.com                              
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