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Cancer Survivors follow Diesel and Guinness in to Nome and end of Iditarod

Youngest ever Iditarod Winner

Dallas Seavey won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday evening, becoming the youngest musher to win the nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska.

And the two cancer survivor mushers, DeeDee Jonrowe and Lance Mackey, are safely home – ahead of half the pack still waiting to finish this gruelling race.

Known as the Last Great Race on Earth, DeeDee came in the first 10 in this race – something that is every musher’s dream.  This year the race was shortened, due to bad weather, but DeeDee and the rest still had to race nearly a thousand miles in temperatures way below freezing.

The temperature wouldn’t have helped Lance either, recovering from Mouth cancer.  He has to keep his throat constantly moistened, but liquid freezes at these low temperatures – so not easy to keep liquids liquid.  Since contracting cancer, Lance won the Iditarod four times – but this wasn’t his year;  possibly not helped by the fact that he had a young and untried team.

Mushers love their dogs, and to make sure that they enjoy the run, they drop off any team members who have the slightest injury, or don’t seem to be enjoying themselves.   According to Rob Cooke, the rules state that the minimum amounty of dogs you can have in your team at the finish is 6 – and some racers retired when down to 7 or 8.  Incidentally, don’t feel sorry for the dropped dogs – a team of Vets pampers them, and they are flown out to relax in comfort at a drop-off point where their musher can retrieve them at the end of the race.

To give you some idea of the difficulties, almost half the field of 66 that set out last Sunday (4th) have still to complete the course, including noted mushers such as Trent Herbst and Karen Ramsted.

Another Record

Three generations of Seaveys were competing – Dallas, son and winner;  Father and previous winner Mitch, and Iditarod Veteran Grandfather Dan, who helped set up race.

Seavey turned 25 on March 4, the day the race officially started north of Anchorage. He was the first musher to reach Nome, his nine dogs led by his Leaders Diesel (on left) and Guinness (right) trotting under the famous burled-arch finish line in the Bering Sea coastal community at 7:29 p.m. Tuesday.  In the photo they get to wear garlands of roses, as dogs as the most important element in the Iditarod.

His dogs are supremely important to Dallas:  “They mean the world to me.  I could not be prouder of these guys. It’s hard to not come to tears when they finally crossed under this arch in first place.”

Bad Weather

But the going had been tough.  The course was shortened to under the ‘magic’ 1,004 miles, because of heavy snowfalls.  Dallas finished the shortened course in nine days, four hours and 29 minutes.  Course record is held by last year’s winner, local John Baker, in 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, 39 seconds.  This year he is still running out in the field.

“When you put your mind on something … good things will happen,” Dallas told the crowd as he sat with an arm around Diesel and Guinness. “Dream big! Go for it! Why not?”

The previous youngest winner was the race’s only five-time champion, Rick Swenson, who won his first Iditarod at age 26 in 1977. Swenson, now 61, is in this year’s race, and is running in the middle of the chasing pack.

Asked about his record-breaking victory, Seavey said it’s been a goal since he started racing competitively.  His race strategy was to build position carefully, and heading into the Ruby checkpoint, Seavey thought his team “had a real possibility of winning.” Still, while he felt confident, “it’s not over till you’re sitting on the podium,” he said.

Of the race’s latter stages, when mushers are notoriously sleep-deprived, Seavey said, “every light that I thought I saw, I thought it was the headlights of a musher about to pass me.”

“When you have Ramey Smyth and Aliy Zirkle behind you, it doesn’t matter if they’re a half day behind you. You’d better be looking over your shoulder,” he added.

And to prove his point, Aliy Zirkle finished second, exactly an hour behind Dallas;  Ramey  Smyth was third.

Who wins what

Dallas will get over $50,000 plus a huge Dodge Truck.  And everyone who comes in the first 30 finishers gets a share of the $500,000 purse, so it’s worth while pressing on.

It’s a family thing

Dallas comes from a family with a long line of Iditarod finishers, including his father, Mitch, who won in 2004. Dallas was a third generation Seavey to be running in the 2012 Iditarod along with his father Mitch Seavey and grandfather, Dan Seavey – both still making their way to Nome.

Other mushers expected to arrive into Nome, Alaska today are Aaron Burmeister  and Peter Kaiser (Bib# 28), with several more shortly after midnight, including Dallas’s father, Mitch.

This year, Dallas’ 74-year-old grandfather, Dan, is running in his fifth Iditarod to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Iditarod Trail. His trip to Nome is being sponsored by the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance to highlight the rich history of the trail.

“It’s kind of what we do,” Dallas Seavey said when asked about that legacy

Read more: http://www.idahostatejournal.com/news/national/article_b3ba750e-6d9f-11e1-8f71-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz1p4rXRmuc

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Iditarod nearing Finish – Mushers hard on each others' heels – No. 5

Post 5.  Nearing End


The Burled Arch in Nome, Alaska, the finish li...

Image via Wikipedia








This photo shows the Burled Arch at Nome.

All the Iditarod racers are aiming for this arch spanning the finish – and only a few hours separate the top six contenders.

In the lead is youngest Seavey in the race – Dallas,

closely followed 2.5 hours behind by Aliy Zirkle

Ramey Smyth is 9 hours behind her

But Aaron Burmeister is only 30 mins behind Ramey

Peter Kaiser is another 4 hrs behind Aaron

Following him is Ray Redington (another famous Iditarod racing family member).

Cancer Survivors DeeDee Jonrowe has slipped down to 10th, and Lance Mackey is at No. 27, although old-timers say that is because he has a very young team.

If you want to catch up with the cat-and-mouse game being played out on the shores of the frozen Bering Straight, go to www.iditarod.com

And anyone interested in strategy for athletics event should read veteran Joe Runyan’s blog about how Dallas got to where he is in the race.  It’s a fascinating explanation of the way thinking can win races:  http://iditarod.com/5pm-tuesday-nome-dallas-widens-gap-on-following-pack-by-joe-runyan/



Post 4.  Aliy slips past men




Aliy Zirkle's team on Anchorage's Fourth Avenu...

Image via Wikipedia







Aliy Zirkle slipped past the two Seaveys and Aaron Burmeister to end up with a pocketful of gold nuggets and the Wells Fargo Award for coming in First at the halfway point.


However, her lead hasn’t lasted long;  latest from the trail is that Dallas Seavey set off before her on next stage, and is now 2 hrs 45 mins. ahead.


Although the old timers will say that isn’t a long lead, they are also saying that Dallas’s team ‘are looking good’.  And at this stage of the race having a team that are set into a routine, and will run and run – can make all the difference.


Because the going is tough.  Team after team has been forced to scratch – many because they have run out of dog, as you must have a minimum to finish the race.  Don’t worry about dogs that have been dropped;  they are well looked after by a team of Veterinarians.  Fed, watered and flown off to the finish at Nome, there to live in luxury kennels whilst waiting for their musher.




One notable musher out of race is Jeff King, previous big-time winner, who has scratched.  For a tough musher like King, this must mean the weather is throwing everything at the racers.




Post 3.  Father and Son battle










The Seaveys are a veteran Iditarod family, and now there is Mitch, the father (53)




battling out race leadership with son Dallas, (25),




with Grandfather Dan, (74) bringing up the rear.




For Dan, it is a nostalgic trip, and he is taking it easy.  He ran the first Iditarod, coming in 3rd, and now he says he is enjoying himself along the trail.




With Mitch first into the Ruby checkpoint, it wasn’t more than an hour before he was joined by Dallas.  According to old-timers, both dog teams “look good”, but feeling is that Dallas might just pull it off.




This video shows the finish of last year’s Yukon Quest, where Rookie (first time racer) Dallas Seavey (above) won the 1,000-mile race, which many consider tougher than the Iditarod.




It may seem strange that the video doesn’t show celebrations, but first and foremost these races teach safety in the wild, and care of the dog teams.  So Dallas could’t be declared winner until all his safety equipment was checked – you can hear him pointint out to where his Axe is stowed, and the dogs examined.











Meanwhile the cancer survivors are doing well, although perhaps not as well as they might hope.  DeeDee Jonrowe, still running with her pink-booted team, is up in first ten, but Lance has pulled back.















Musher Jim Lanier from Chugiak, Alaska who is running his 15th Iditarod, was the first to arrive at the Cripple Checkpoint at 13:55 Alaska Time with 13 dogs.  The Cripple Checkpoint signifies the halfway point of the 40th running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.




April Browning, ITG Project Manager for GCI was on hand at the Cripple Checkpoint to present the GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award to Lanier:  a trophy plus $3,000 in placer gold nuggets, courtesy of Iditarod Principle Partner GCI.




However, presentations on the track are always very hurried affairs.  No Musher wants to spend a second more than necessary at a Checkpoint, before they head off again up the Trail.  So The GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award will be presented again to Jim Lanier in Nome on Sunday, March 18th during the Iditarod Awards Banquet at the Nome Recreation Center.




This video shows Jim running in a previous Iditarod, with a single ‘wheeler’ at the rear.  I am no expert but usually there are two wheeler dogs – but each musher has reasons for the way they run their dogs.  Remember, the sled dogs are all individuals, and sometimes they don’t get on with each other – unlike humans, they don’t bother to keep their feelings under wraps!











Currently the going is tough, with very deep snow which is powdery at low minus temperatures.  The race has been shortened due to conditions, and is now just under the usual 1,049 miles – the 49 was there for historical reasons as Alaska is the 49th US State.








Veteran Iditarod musher Ryan Redington  scratched in Takotna at 09:30 Alaska Time.  Ryan Redington from Wasilla made the decision to scratch due to personal reasons.  Redington’s grandfather was Joe Redington, Sr., Father of the Iditarod.  Ryan Redington had 10 dogs on his team when he made the decision.  Redington’s older brother, Ray Redington, Jr.  is still in the race.




Redington is one of several mushers who have already scratched, with weather proving a serious problem.  However Ryan says he made his decision for personal reasons.












Musher Aliy Zirkle was first to arrive into McGrath along the banks of the Kuskokwim River at 20:32 Alaska Time, with all her 16 dogs.




The prestigious PENAIR SPIRIT OF ALASKA AWARD was presented to Zirkle at a very brief award ceremony at the McGrath Checkpoint.




Last year Aliy finished 11th in the Iditarod last year, and was followed 22 minutes later into the checkpoint by defending champion John Baker.




Closely on her heels is four-time consecutive winner Lance Mackey, whose streak was ended by Baker last year, pulled in three minutes later. Meanwhile, Dan Seavey, 74, is running in his fifth Iditarod to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Iditarod Trail. He is also one of three generations of Seaveys in the race, joining son Mitch Seavey, 52, and grandson Dallas, 25, who in 2005 was the youngest musher ever to run the Iditarod. Mitch, the 2004 champ, is in his 19th Iditarod. Dallas is in his sixth and finished in the top five last year.




Spirit of Alaska Award




The award is a beautiful original “spirit mask” especially created for this event by Bristol Bay artist Orville Lind.  But what s sometimes more important to these professional mushers, Aliy also  received a $500 credit toward travel or freight shipment.




At the end of the trail is over $50,000 to the winner – but even more important is a Dodge truck and many, many sponsorship opportunities.




Cancer survivors




Apart from Lance Mackey, DeeDee Jonrowe is still going strong with her pink-booted dog team, albeit they must have already gone through a fair amount of the 4,000 boots DeeDee’s team made for them.




Weather Conditions increase dangers




Near record snowfalls have made Iditarod officials announce the trail’s course was being altered due to worsening weather conditions.




This year, Anchorage has already doubled its usual snowfall with approximately 120 inches – 10 feet of snow – and is approaching the near 133-inch record set in 1954. The deep snow could be a major factor in the Iditarod, as weather conditions affect the dogs’ physical performance and increase the threat of dangerous moose encounters on the trail.  Several Iditarod mushers have already reported run-ins with winter-weary moose during training runs through interior Alaska.




Hours after Saturday morning’s ceremonial start, race director Mark Nordman announced trail breakers had become more concerned over a previously planned reroute in a critical part of the 2012 trail. Citing high wind and new snow totals, Nordman broke last-minute news of the change to mushers and fans.




So this year the trail may be under the ‘magic’ 1,000 miles – but may cause the mushers to take longer over the course.








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Cancer survivors race in world's toughest race

Heading across Alaska





Led by Ray Redington Jr. (a famous family name in the Iditarod) the contestants are on their way in the 1,000 mile plus race across the snows.

The 16-dog teams will encounter temperatures many degrees below freezing;  will have to boot  up (see picture above) which dogs dislike, but it protects their paws from sharp icy conditions;  and will go almost without sleep for at least the next week-and-a-bit.

As the contestants set off, the temperature was a mild 25°, which has already caused a change of route, but conditions are expected to get colder.  This will please the dogs, however;  the colder it is, the more they like running.

This year there are 66 entrants, including many famous family names, and of course 4-times winner and cancer survivor Lance Mackey.  Closely followed by DeeDee Jonrowe, double mastectomy survivor who makes sure her team is booted up in pink bootees.

Amongst those to look out for are:
Jim  Lanier from  Chugiak,  Alaska;   John  Baker (last year’s winner);     Aliy  Zirkle – noted women musher:  Iditarod is  only major international race where men and women are equal;   another woman:  DeeDee  Jonrowe;  Lance  Mackey (record consecutive four-times winner);   Sigrid  Ekran from  Norway; Dallas  Seavey (another one from noted family);  Mitch Seavey (same family);   Martin  Buser: another Norwegian  Silvia  Furtwängler; Rick  Swenson;  Curt  Perano from New Zealand; and  Dan  Seavey and Ryan Redington from famous Iditarod families.

Follow the race on www.iditarod.com

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Yukon Quest

Cancer survivors love to prove themselves in this race


and mouth cancer survivor Lance Mackey ended up on the podium in third place – not bad after 1,000 miles of gruelling racing.

Winner was veteran musher Hugh Neff, who produced the closest finish ever;  just 26 seconds separated him and Allen Moore, who must have thought he had the race in the bag as he had led almost the whole way.

Lance was a four-times winner of this race, but this time he settled for third place;  still proving that cancer survivors are a pretty tough bunch.

(Scroll down for latest video)

I took these photos on 8 March 2009 at the cer...

Lance Mackey

Some people survive cancer – then celebrate by doing something extraordinary:

like enter one of the world’s toughest dog sled races.

Next to the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, the Yukon Quest is THE biggie everyone wants to win.  Run every February, it is a forerunner for the Iditarod, and pointer to which teams to watch.

Head and neck cancer survivor Lance Mackey has won this 1,000 mile race four times.

In the video (below) of the start of the Quest, you catch a glimpse of sled dogs ‘booted up’ in bright pink bootees:  they belong to double mastectomy survivor DeeDee Jonrowe, who always dresses her team in this neon pink colour (the dogs wear bootees – much to their disgust – to protect their paws from the icy cold trail that could cut them to ribbons).

Watching this video might give you a tiny idea of just what these mad mushers go for; and how easy it is to get hooked.


Britain is latest country to fall for the exhilerating sport of dog sledding, and Penny Evans, stalwart of sledding in UK, has sent me this report – which tells of an epic race for one British musher when he and his wife emigrated to Canada, and ends up with him competing in qualifying race for the Yukon Quest.

What Penny is too modest to mention is that her Penkhala kennel huskies form the backbone of Rob’s team.  Talk about taking coals to Newcastle ……

To live the dream?

Photos of Rob and Louise :  Tracey Ackerson and Tracy Green

Competitor Rob Cooke certainly is living his dream. And for thousands of British dog lovers, he is the one they watch.

Given the opportunity of secondment to the Canadian Forces on an exchange with Britain’s Royal Navy, Rob and his wife Louise jumped at the chance and took their British bred Siberian Huskies back to their roots. It didn’t take either of them long to realise this was their dream, and soon with very careful selection their Shaytaan kennels had swelled ranks with US and Canadian stock and Rob was competing in middle distance races with his pedigree dogs – many of whom had been shown at the world’s most famous dog show, Crufts.


Then came the life-changing decision when Rob’s leisure sport became his vocation. On retirement from the UK Services, Rob and Louise moved from their house in downtown Halifax Nova Scotia to a dis-used zoo in New Brunswick.  “So handy said Louise, all those cages are perfect for the dogs, though perhaps taking on the remaining incumbent llamas came as a slight shock!

With trails spreading for miles from the backyard, Rob and Louise started training in earnest.  Whatever the weather they soon began to learn the needs and techniques of long-distance mushing and Rob never does things by halves, his research is never-ending and his knowledge is put into practice with his beloved dogs.  Typical Brit … and indeed for most mushers, “dogs-come-first” is the motto of their lifestyle.

But there was a bigger horizon … last Autumn Rob packed his best dogs into their van and travelled West across the American continent all the way to Alaska to train and compete with the big names in the sport. Staying with Lev Shvarts in his kennels Rob and his team quietly took on the Alaskans at their national sport.  Training was slow to start, snow was scarce, but then the White-Stuff arrived and races began.  Despite jibes about Slow-berians (most competitive teams run Alaskan cross-breed dogs rather than pedigree dogs) with a couple of finishes under his sled Rob was beginning to get noticed and he and his homebred pups, were making their mark.

As much as The Iditarod (the 1,000 mile race held every March to commemorate the famous Anchorage to Nome serum run in 1925) is known worldwide, the Yukon Quest is “the professionals’ choice” – a gruelling sled race between White Horse and Fairbanks taking in some of the most difficult terrain and weather conditions in the world.  The Quest 300 is the “starter-kit” run over the same trails but making a 300 ml loop rather than the full distance trail.  This race was to be Rob’s best shot at qualifying for the full Quest, hopefully next year.  Seven teams of Alaskan Huskies and Rob’s one pedigree Siberian team (somehow indiscernibly the “slow” had over past months been dropped from quotes) set out last Saturday.  The rest is history …. Rob’s faithful UK and worldwide fan-base watched results from each checkpoint.  Fourth position as he left Two Rivers – could he hold on to that slot for the remainder of the race?  Everything crossed…  unbelievably by Mile 101 he had gained a place and was up to third.  Snow was falling over the Southern Counties of GB and Rob’s dogs’ relations were enjoying a rare opportunity to run on sleds round Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, but four miles of running requires nothing like the endurance and stamina the Shaytaan Gang were needing for their task in paw.  They held position through Central Checkpoint, this was beginning to get serious now for the arm-chair followers.  Then the unbelievable happened … Rob arrived at Circle City in second position … which he held to the finish amidst huge accolade from both sides of The Pond …. by now the word SLOWberians was only heard in whispers.  Here is the quote from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

“Rob Cooke of Edmundston, New Brunswick, was looking for experience and a qualifier for the 1,000 mile Quest.  ‘I just came here to finish. To finish in second place is just amazing,’ Cooke, 45, said. ‘Everybody has said to me you’re absolutely mad trying to do this as a qualifier, but it was everything I expected it to be. I just had such a fantastic time. I’ve been dragged across glare ice, I smacked my hip and rolled my sled going down Eagle Summit.’

Cooke was awarded the Vet’s Choice Award for exemplary dog care of his team of Siberian huskies.”

Louise from their home in New Brunswick where she continues to care for and train the second teams had a slightly different view sent to me by e-mail:

“Thank you! Still can’t believe what they did! … His idea of a fantastic time isn’t the same as mine lol!”

Oh and Facebook lit up like a Christmas tree with congratulations.  Rob may never be BBC Sportsman of the year, but he is living his dream which if you ask him he is not even halfway through yet ….

Yes, Brits have competed abroad and run the Iditarod and even The Quest, but never with anything other than local teams and certainly not pedigree dogs.  To all us Siberian Husky enthusiasts worldwide, he and Louise are certainly our Local Heroes (Penny doesn’t mention some of stock were bred by her – Ed).  And you know what ?  more importantly than his second place finish, beating teams from hugely famous Alaskan Kennels such as Lance Mackey and Sonny Lindner and running his own bred pedigree dogs, the most important award to us all will always be the Vet’s Choice Award.  Respect is never achieved at the cost of co-members of a team and never more true when they have four feet not two.   Long may Rob, Louise and their dogs continue to carry the flags of the UK and Siberian Huskies ….

This is latest interview on the trail.  Notice Lance is drinking water to keep his throat moistened because of cancer.

For more information: http://www.yukonquest.com/site/yq300main




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World's toughest race and cancer connections

Iditarod beaten by cancer survivors


English: Army Staff Sgt. Harry Alexie of the A...

Four times winner Lance Mackey beat cancer

If there is one thing cancer survivors learn – you have to be tough to beat the disease.

And this stands them in good stead if it comes to taking part – and winning – the Iditarod dog sled race, run across a thousand miles of frozen Alaskan wastes every March.

One of the most famous racers taking part is Lance Mackey

  • four times winner
  • throat cancer survivor
  • In 1978 his father, Dave, beat previous winner Rick Swenson by one second to win that year’s Iditarod

In 2001 Mackey was diagnosed with throat cancer, but doesn’t let this bother him, even though he needs to keep his mouth constantly moist;  a very difficult thing when temperatures are way below what freezes water.

To read more put his name into the search bar, and read a friend’s account of meeting the great man with a big sense of humour.


Another with Iditarod musher with a big sense of humour is DeeDee Jonrowe.

A double mastectomy survivor, DeeDee decided to have fun, and some years ago started to equip her 16-strong dog sled team with pink bootees.  To see pics of the incredible sight of DeeDee dressed in her pink mushing gear, driving her pink-booted team, put DeeDee into search window.


Susan Butcher

Susan was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a lover of dogs and the outdoors. When she was young her brother died of leukemia at a young age. She studied at Colorado State University and ultimately became a veterinary technician.

To pursue her love of dogsled racing and breeding huskies, she moved to the Wrangell Mountains area of Alaska.

There Susan began training to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race which tests the endurance of both mushers and dogs over the course of one to two weeks. After placing in several Iditarods, Butcher was forced to withdraw early in the 1985 when two of her dogs were killed by a pregnant moose, despite Butcher’s attempts to ward the animal off, and six others were severely injured. Libby Riddles, a relative newcomer, braved a blizzard and became the first woman to win the Iditarod that year.

The more experienced Butcher won the next race in 1986, and then proceeded to win again in 1987, 1988, and 1990. She joins fellow four-time winners Martin Buser, Jeff King, Lance Mackey and Doug Swingley, and Rick Swenson who won five. Butcher married fellow dog racer David Monson on September 2, 1985; they successfully competed in almost every major sled-dog race in numerous countries around the world.

Her accomplishments gained her substantial media attention in the late 1980s and earned her many awards, including the “National Women’s Sports Foundation Amateur Athlete of The Year Award” and the “Tanqueray Athlete of the Year.” She also won the “U.S. Victor Award” for “Female Athlete of the Year” two years in a row. In 2007 Susan was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame as one of the five charter members in the inaugural class.

In 2005 Butcher was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, underwent chemotherapy  and received a bone marrow transplant on May 17, 2006 after the cancer went into remission. According to her husband David Monson, “someone said this might be a tough disease, but this leukemia hasn’t met Susan Butcher yet.”

Butcher died on August 5, 2006 after learning that the cancer had returned. She is survived by her two daughters, Tekla and Chisana, and her husband, attorney and musher David Monson.

On March 1, 2008, Susan Butcher was honored by the State of Alaska when, just prior to the start of the 2008 Iditarod, Gov. Sarah Palin signed a bill establishing the first Saturday of every March as Susan Butcher Day. The day coincides with the traditional start of the Iditarod each year. Observing the special day, the bill noted, provides opportunity for people to “remember the life of Susan Butcher, an inspiration to Alaskans and to millions around the world.”

And true to Iditarod mushers’ and cancer survivors’ feelings, Susan said “I do not know the word ‘quit.’ Either I never did, or I have abolished it.”

Follow the Race
Starts Saturday, March 3rd, and I will be covering the highlights during the following couple of weeks.  Will also be writing about the dogs on www.workingdogbooks.com

Fun project for kids with cancer who love dogs

Inspire kids!I took these photos on 6 March 2010 at the cer...


Especially if they are doing projects in a Hospital School, or have adopted a cancer charity for a class project.

And especially, especially if they have cancer, and are wondering if ever they will be able to finish with treatment and do anything extraordinary.

The Iditarod Dog Sled Race takes place every year, run for ten or more gruelling days across Alaska.

It has followers across the world – including millions of kids that love the sight of cuddly husky dogs.

And – it has become a tradition for cancer survivors to take part in the race.  Several well-known competitors have survived cancer.

Cancer Survivor Lancy Mackey has won the race a record number of times – and will probably race again this year.

As will Mastectomy survivor Dee Dee Jonrowe, who kits out her dogs in pink boots.  Dogs have to wear these (much to their dislike) as the trail gets iced up with sharp pathways.

So kids can follow their ‘chosen’ musher (racer) and watch whilst they and their dogs battle across what is known as the Last Great Race on Earth.

And men and women take part – equally.  Some of most famous winners have been women.

Teachers – use the race as classroom resource

The race goes on 24/7.

Once racers set off, depending on weather and condition of dogs, they will race whenever the dogs want, so as the teams spread out there is something happening all the time.  This is ably recorded by race officials and put up on Internet.

It can become addictive to log on and find out just where ‘your’ favourite team is.

Included in race reports are vivid snapshots of what life is like for the locals – both native Alaskans and incomers who live there because of the way of a life well-away from commercialisation.

And, if teachers have the time, a class can take part in the preparations:

Message from Race Organisers

“Once again To My Favorite Teachers and all others willing to make this happen”.

Feb 12th is the last day you can get your School Class/Student/Scout Group
participating in the Iditarod Trail Mail Educational Project in the Mail.
Project site: <www.leaknomeak.com>

Time Ticks – But this year I am offering for anyone that can send a
list of those participants that they have gotten to join the fun of the
Iditarod Trail Educational Mail Project as first timers, a

Genuine Used on the Iditarod Trail Dog Bootie”

from an Iditarod Dog Team finishing the Race here in Nome.

We have already received 26 projects in the Mail.

Right Now we have plenty of snow and plenty Cold, Since the 23rd of
December no snow (we already have plenty) and the average temperature
has huddled around -25f with only a one day high of +12f briefly and a
2-day low of -42f.

Hope you’ll have someone, a class/group or more,
participating in the Iditarod Trail Educational Mail Project (ITEMP)?
Remember in the mail by the 12th of February.   LEO



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Hooked on dog sled racing? How to get going

Boeing 747-400 displaying the post-1997 Speedm...

Image via Wikipedia

Dog sledding is excellent exercise

Here’s how to get going


Every weekend enthusiasts all over the world get out with their dogs – and if you are like 50% of my readers and live in Britain,  here is info about getting started here.

But Beware! This article should come with a stark WARNING!

Once you have tried it – you will be hooked!

All the photos with dogs here were taken by Alan Bowering, a stalwart of the dog sledding scene in  Britain, and show the wheeled rigs that are generally used in UK because of lack of snow.

His partner is Penny Evans (another stalwart), and it is thanks to her and her ex-partner, John Evans, that Europe’s biggest dog sled rally, Aviemore Dog Sled Rally – takes place with over 200 entrants every year, making it Europe’s biggest.

I have asked Alan and Penny, who are certainly hooked, to help with low-down.  They are keen supporters of dog sledding in Britain, have visited Alaska to see the big races, and are off there again shortly.

Photo shows Penny’s Veteran Crufts Champion Siberian Husky, Penkhala’s Nikarah – Nik for short.

Where can you do this?

Go to www.siberianhuskyclub.com for a list of rallies taking place all over Britain.   If you live near East Anglia see below; or ask the local Forestry Commission office, as they lend land for the rallies at most of their properties.

In summer, contact the club to find out if enthusiasts are running – if weather is cold enough they will gather, but dogs don’t like too hot temperatures.  During the summer there are shows, and whilst most of these dogs would curl a lip if asked to ‘show’, some, like Penny, do occasionally enter – then make others jealous by producing dogs like Nik who walk away with the prize.  And asking around at a show will always produce dog sled enthusiasts who can tell you where to find the sport.

Alan’s photos show dogs pulling wheeled rigs on British forest trails.  Teams are smaller in UK, as they don’t have to run so far as they do in the Iditarod.  The object of events in Britain is to give enthusiasts a fun day out – not trek for a thousand miles!

The rigs are very much like tricycles, and don’t take long to master.  However, the dogs are just as eager to run as Iditarod veterans, so no need to worry about how fast they go – just how to hang on for dearlife as they get going.

Sledding in East Anglia

Apart from the Siberian Husky Club, I asked another very keen friend if she could tell me where one could go to learn to ‘mush’.  She wrote back to say, “the people I wanted to check with are Forstal Huskies – Sally Leich and Ali Koops – and they are happy for you to put their details up.  Their website is www.huskyrides.co.uk – which seems to say it all really!

Where else?

British Siberian Husky Racing Association  www.huskyracing.org.uk                                                                        They organise a championship series of races every season, all over the country, so there should be one or more within easy reach of most parts of UK

And if you are really keen to see what goes on, take a trip to Aviemore in Scotland for last-but-one weekend every January, when the town hosts Europe’s largest dog sled rally: well over 200 teams compete every year.

British Airways flies to Inverness (for Aviemore).  As you fly north take a look out of plane windows and you very often see a procession of ‘white vans’ carrying dogs, heading north.  They’ll have wheeled rigs – and for the optimists a pulka (snow sled) – on the roof.  If you are going for the tourist experience, don’t forget Aviemore is very near Speyside, where the river is lined with whisky distilleries of every kind;  most welcome visitors.

During the rally one of the major distilleries hosts a Malt Whisky tasting at Aviemore.  This is definitely not a booze up, but a serious and enjoyable learning experience.  Dog sledders know their malts, and many of them are partial to Lagavulin – so much so that the town had run out of it during one rally; but I understand this has been rectified!

Tip – if you like eating well, book restaurant reservations EARLY.  Dog sledders may look like the scruffiest people you have ever seen when racing, but they know their food and fine dining, so come evening they are off into the town to eat the gourmet-ish food they can find.

Hotels – once, when Aviemore was booked out, we stayed at Craigellachie Hotel (about an hour away).  And landed in clover.  Any hotel that can provide smiling, helpful staff, a bar with 700 Malts (has anyone ever drunk even half?), gourmet food with a local twist, luxurious bedrooms and yellow ducks to float in your bath (no, you haven’t had too much to drink – they really are there as the Manager considers every bath MUST have a duck floating in it) has got my vote as one of my favourites.  And the prices are reasonable – unlike the over-glitzed tourist traps further south. info@craigellachie.com

What to wear

Very warm boots.  Lots of thermal layers plus old cashmere sweaters (as one does). Warm trousers – not jeans. And warm gloves.  If you are going to be helping/working, wear inner silk glove linings (buy them in sports shops £8);  they are excellent to wear when you need your hands, but want some protection when you have to take off thick gloves.

Then, some tricks of the trade that will give your skin an extra layer of protection. 

Use plenty of skin moisturiser, both on your body, as winds can cut through and give you wind burn even through layers, and on your face.  And keep a spare jar of cream in your pocket, plus plenty of lip balm.  The sun may be shining, but our skins are extremely vulnerable in cold conditions – trust me!

Currently I am using Living Nature products, and they have coped brilliantly with this incredible cold, snowy winter we have had, plus the cold winds that do more damage to skin than anything.  Their Living Nature Lip Balm is a godsend;  a deeply nourish balm, I keep it in my pocket whenever I go outdoors, especially watching sledding, and use it every hour at least. 

Before going out I will put on their leave-on Ultra Nourishing Mask.  My tip is to leave this on – don’t bother to wipe off – after your shower, then before you go out slap on their Rich Day Cream over the top; together the two layers will give you added protection, and  deeply nourish parched dry skin.  Finally, at night put on their Radiance Night Oil underneath your night cream, which gives an extra boost whilst you are sleeping.  This is a delicate blend of rosehips and herbs to help retain and restore a skin’s vitality.  

Incidentally their eco-friendly packaging has flat backs so it doesn’t take up much room in the suitcase.

 Currently I  am using Flexitol on my feet –  they provide creams for Rachel Scidoris (the incredible blind musher) AND her dogs ( sled dogs are really spoilt)  – so what helps Rachel win races is good enough for me. 

So you want to go abroad

All over the Alps and in Scandinavia there are dog sledding kennels that offer rides – either training you to mush or run behind the dogs in charge of a team, or you can sit in a sled (pulka) and be towed behind a team with someone else doing the mushing.

Ask the local tourist board of any ski resort to give you a list of local kennels offering this

Look on www.healthspanews.com and I have written up a few health spa resorts where you can take part.

The big one – going to Alaska

Have already had enquiries from readers – “how do we get there?  and when is best time to go?”

Answer is almost any time.  There is a big tourism trade in the summer, with outdoor enthusiasts going to see the wildlife, go kayaking, etc.

And of course if you want to go dog sledding, the season is right throughout the winter, and you could even take out dogs from kennels that will be competing in the Iditarod.

Throughout the winter there are various dog sled races most weeks, and being a spectator is the friendliest way of meeting the ‘natives’, and as Penny and Alan found, as visitors from Britain you are warmly welcomed, and often get to be introduced to the champion mushers.  As Penny said, they were introduced to Lance Mackey as “your biggests fans from Europe”, which she says wasn’t too difficult as they were the only ones.

But she treasures a boot from one of Lance’s champion sled dogs.  As she says, it may be old and worn out – but one of Lance’s – that was something else.

Alaskans are very hospitable, but being stuck out on the furthest peninsula away from UK, the journey needs planning.

Hotels: There is a huge variety in Anchorage,  quite a lot in Nome – but they can be sparse on the trail in between.

Away from these cities, it might be best to go look for the Iditarod recommended B & Bs.  Advantage is that the owners know the trail, they are involved in the running of the race, so have lots of stories to tell, and can advise you on the best way to get somewhere – by tiny plane, by sea or by 4 x 4.

Friends who have booked in to B & Bs are delighted that most owners also have something to do with the Iditarod – so have become firm friends talking it over.

British Airways offer daily connections from Heathrow to Anchorage, Alaska via Seattle (onwards on Alaska Airlines) and also in the summer via Dallas Fort Worth (from 01May, onwards on American Airlines) and via Chicago (from 09 Jun, onwards on American Airlines).

Each of these options has a connection from Manchester to Heathrow.

In addition, for the Chicago option it would be possible to use the AA-operated codeshare flight direct from Manchester to Chicago to connect onto the onward flight.

BA say there are a number of options for lead-in fares, and to give a couple of examples:

Return (including taxes/fees/charges) fares in June from Manchester via Chicago start from £891.20;

Return from Heathrow via Seattle or Dallas in May starts from £881.53.

To book visit www.ba.com or call 0844 4930787

If you have become hooked – don’t forget this sport is excellent exercise post cancer;  you can take it at your own pace, just walking around and helping at the start, or running behind a dog team to give you fantastic fun.  Either way you are in the open air, it is fun (even in pouring rain!) as the dogs spread their enthusiasm around, and mushers are very nice people!

And if you love the sport as much as I do, please click through with a small donation to Breakthrough:

Supporting http://breakthrough.org.uk/donate/index.htmlnd

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And Finally –

If you have any ideas of getting a husky puppy and starting racing, take a look on the Siberian Husky Club website under ‘Damage’.  These are genuuine photos of what these dogs can do to the inside of a home.  As pack animals, they get bored very easily if they don’t get enough exercise, and much prefer to live outdoors than inside centrally-heated homes.

Iditarod – facts behind the story of the Last Great Race on Earth

First native Alaskan to win Iditarod

As he powered towards the famous buried arch finishing line at Nome, John Baker was cheered on by fellow Inupiats.

They were delighted that at last a true native Alaskan had won the race, and their  drums welcomed him in to a deafening beat.

And there was another cause for pride:  John and ‘ Team Baker’  as he calls his dogs, (see picture right – looks like Velvet and Snickers leading) had done this in the fastest time ever:  8 days 18 hrs. 46mins.39 secs, beating previous record time set by Martin Buser in 2002 of 8 days 22 hrs. 46 mins 2 secs.

Second in was Ramey Smyth, who also beat the record with a run of 8 days 19 hrs 50 mins 59 secs.  As well as running so well, Ramey had been spreading the message to help cancer patients – don’t smoke – and don’t drink – all the way along the trail.

The 39th Iditarod was the fastest for overall time taken by leaders, and there will be double celebrating along the Alaska coastline and interior tonight  one of their own has at last bought the Iditarod trophy home.  Incidentally, there are always two trails, that alternate each year, to give every tiny Alaskan community along the way the chance to be part of this race.  This year it was the turn of the Southern route, which is generally regarded as taking longer, as it is slightly more miles.

Current finishers

3rd  Hans Gatt

4th Dallas Seavey  (having won the Yukon Quest earlier last month, this youngster from a famous mushing family is      going to have to wait for the ultimate prize

5th  Hugh Neff

6th German-born Sebastian Schnuelle

7th Ray Redington

8th Peter Kaiser

9th Ken Anderson

then came three women,

10th Jessie Royer

11th Allie Zirkle

12th – feisty DeeDee Jonrowe, the battling mastectomy survivor with pink-booted team

and Lance Mackey, fellow cancer survivor, has made it to Nome in 16th place.  Followed by previous winner Martin Buser.

Conditions must have altered somewhere on the trail, as veterans are still to appear in Nome.  No doubt it will come out, but Lance, being Lance, isn’t blaming anyone for his lower placing than he hoped after his last four Iditarods when he came in first.  That’s life!

Scotsman Wattie McDonald, strong supporter of children’s cancer charities, arrived in in 36th position, up on his placing in the 40s last year.  But this time he only had 12 dogs, and for someone who carefully nurses his dogs, rather than pushing on and dropping those that don’t keep up – this shows that conditions must have been tough this year.

The rest of the field of 48 teams (originally there were 61 starters) are still strung out behind, and it will probably be another 2 days before the last one in gains the Red Lantern prize.

But the first Rookie (first time runner) has made it in, at a very creditable 28th position.  French-born Nicolas Petit got into the race by a fluke, when the kennel owner for whom he worked, Jim Lanier, had to scratch as he needed an urgent hip operation.  So Nicolas stepped in, and Jim must be delighted at how well he did with his team.

Dream come true

Baker, seen here at the bib number draw before the race)  had his dream come true at last.

He has been in Top Ten finishers 12 times since he first raced in the Iditarod in 1996; and this race win must be even sweeter, when he reflects back that he so nearly won it before.

He had been leading, when the trail became obliterated;  he thought he had gone off course and wasted precious time getting back – when he was on the right trail all the time.  But sadly this cost him his lead that year.



Three of Baker’s dogs

Left:  Lead dogs Velvet and Snickers

Very fast, mixed types

 Right:  Rambo

Typical husky type – with plenty of power


Size of teams – 16 seems a lot of dog to handle, particularly when running through forests and across rough, cut-up terrain, but in the old days when dog sleds provided the transport across Northern America, it was not unusual to have teams of up to 60 dogs to haul freight – and these freight ‘trains’ would have been using Malamutes, the largest of the huskies.

Some people today, particularly in Britain where the traditions of dog sledding, rather than going flat out to win, still prevail, there are some teams that will use Greenlands.  They are slightly smaller than Malamutes, but still big dogs.  Raol Amudsen loved them, and probably won over Scott in the race to the South Pole because Scott relied on mechanical transport or ponies – Amundsen put his faith in his dogs.

Dogs here are Greenlands, belonging in musher Jim Ryder’s team.  As you see they are powerful and very attractive dogs – real powerhouses in a team.

After Amundsen’s South Pole triumph, the Swiss company building the Jungfrau mountain railway ran in to snags.  The terrain was too steep for mules to transport the building materials, so they asked Amudsen for help, and he bought in a team of Greenlands.  These endeared themselves to the workmen and the locals, so that when the railway was finished, and the Directors made murmurs about what should they do with the dogs (with possible solution copying Inuit tradition and destroying them), there was an outcry.  So the Greenlands stayed, had superb kennels built half way up the mountain, and every day go to work on the Jungfrau train in their own carriage, either up to the top in summer, or down to the valley in winter, giving dog sled rides to tourists.


999 and Other Working Dogs – published by WSN.  Buy it off Amazon or Police Dog Equipment site http://www.elitek9.com/999-and-Other-Working-Dogs/productinfo/BK16/

Has a long chapter giving basic history, details of different husky breeds, and anecdotes about famous sled dogs and their exploits.

If you are hooked

Have already have had enquiries from readers – “how do we get there?  and when is best time to go?” 

Alaskans are very hospitable, but being stuck out on the furthest peninsula away from UK, the journey needs planning.

When you get there, the Iditarod office or tourist board are people to contact as there aren’t many hotels outside the cities.  But local Alaskans are very hospitable, and friends who have booked in to B & Bs are delighted that most owners also have something to do with the Iditarod – so have become firm friends talking it over.

British Airways offer daily connections from Heathrow to Anchorage, Alaska via Seattle (onwards on Alaska Airlines) and also in the summer via Dallas Fort Worth (from 01May, onwards on American Airlines) and via Chicago (from 09 Jun, onwards on American Airlines).

Each of these options has a connection from Manchester to Heathrow.
In addition, for the Chicago option it would be possible to use the AA-operated codeshare flight direct from Manchester to Chicago to connect onto the onward flight.

To surmise, this gives a number of options for ‘lead-in’ fares.
To give a couple of examples (return including taxes/fees/charges) fares in June from Manchester via Chicago start from £891.20;
from Heathrow via Seattle or Dallas in May starts from £881.53.

 To book visit www.ba.com or call 0844 4930787

If you have become hooked – and love the sport as much as I do, please click through with a small donation to Breakthrough:

Supporting http://breakthrough.org.uk/donate/index.htmlnd

Don’t forget Ramey Smyth is running with a powerful message, one ably supported

by Breakthrough – DON’T SMOKE.  He feels passionately about this, with having

experienced cancer in the family.

For latest finishers and other info:  www.iditarod.com

John Baker  www.teambaker.com

Ramey Smyth  www.homestretchkennel.com

Hans Gatt  www.gattslediom.com

Dallas Seavey  www.iditaride.com/seavey

Hugh Neff  www.laughingeyeskennel.com

Lance Mackey  www.mackeyscomebackkennel.



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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2. Iditarod FAQ

I took these photos on 6 March 2010 at the cer...

Image via Wikipedia

No 2  FAQs behind the Iditarod

This Saturday (5th) about 70 mushers (dog sled drivers) driving teams of 16 dogs each will set off to race across Alaska, taking upwards of eight days or more to run the 1000+ miles.

Known as The Last Great Race on Earth, this is the only international sporting event where men and women are equal, and several women have won this gruelling race.

But the reason why I am posting details is because cancer patients, even after treatment, have still managed to complete the race.  Last year’s winner, Lance Mackey, had cancer – has won the race four times – and this year is aiming for a record firth win in a row.

And DeeDee Jonrowe, a famous female racer, dresses her 16-dog team in pink bootees, to commemorate surviving breast cancer.

How is race run?

At the start around 60 t0 75 teams of 12 – 16 dogs set off.  Record number was 77 teams.  Around 2/3rds of those will finish the course.

During the race teams have to call in to 25 check points, where dogs are examined to see that they are OK.  (More below).  As the race progresses, it can be incredibly exciting to see how the teams are strung out;  which one has called in to which check point;  which one is taking time out for a sleep – when another racer may overtake them, etc.


The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual sled dog team race across Alaska, in U.S.A.

Mushers and teams of 16 dogs cover over 1,000 miles (1,800km) in nine to twenty days.  Starting  from Willow (near Anchorage) to Nome. The race always begins on the first Saturday in March.

Teams frequently race through blizzards causing whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds which can cause wind chill to reach minus 100 °F (-73 °C).

Beginning in 1973 as an event to test the best sled dog mushers and teams, in a tribute to the musherw and their dogsw that opened up Alaska.  It has evolved into today’s highly competitive race, with mushers racing for big prize money, Alaskan gold nuggets and a Dodge truck (highly prized). The current fastest winning time record was set in 2002 by Martin Buser with a time of 8 days, 22 hours, 47 minutes, and 2 seconds.

A ceremonial start occurs in the city of Anchorage and is followed by the official restart in Willow, a city in the south central region of the state.  The trail runs from Willow up the Rainy Pass of the Alaska Range into the sparsely populated interior, and then along the shore of the Bering Sea, finally reaching Nome in western Alaska.

The teams race through tundra and spruce forests, over hills and mountain passes, and across rivers. While the start in Anchorage is in the middle of a large urban center, most of the route passes through widely separated towns and villages, and small Athabaskan and Inupiat settlements. The Iditarod is regarded as a symbolic link to the early history of the state and is connected to many traditions commemorating the legacy of dog mushing.

The race is the most popular sporting event in Alaska, and the top mushers and their teams of dogs are local celebrities; this popularity is credited with the resurgence of recreational mushing in the state since the 1970s. While the yearly field of more than fifty mushers and about a thousand dogs is still largely Alaskan, competitors from fourteen countries have completed the event including the Swiss Martin Buser, who became the first international winner in 1992, and an Italian, Armen Katchikian, who won a TV competition in Italy called My Wildest Dream.  Armen’s dream was to take part in the Iditarod, and the TV company paid for him to live in Alaska for months, training a team of dogs they bought for him – and unlike many rookies (first-time competitors), Armen completed the course.

Women in the race

This is the only international sporting competion I know of where women compete equally with men.

The Iditarod received more attention outside of the state after the 1985 victory of Libby Riddles, a long shot who became the first woman to win the race. Susan Butcher became the second woman to win the race and went on to dominate for half a decade.

This year there are several women competing.  Some of them old hands at the Iditarod, including DeeDee Jonrowe. DeeDee has competed magnificently, but one of her claims to fame is that she has had breast cancer – and still gone on to finish the race.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Hence the reason why I say that if anyone wants to send a donation to a charity, please think of Breakthrough Breast Cancer.  This is a pioneering charity dedicated to the prevention, treatment and ultimate eradication of breast cancer,  on three fronts: research, campaigning and education.   www.breakthrough.org.uk

On the Trail

For dogs in particular, on the trail all is routines. Every day the team goes through the same  process on a regular basis.  Dogs thrive on routine.

  • There’s the routine of traveling, with every dog allocated its own place along the ‘line’ to which they are hitched up
  • there’s the routine of camping out, where the musher has to attend to the dogs before themselves
  • and there’s the routine of checkpoints, where mushers check-in, the vets on the trail examine the dogs, the dogs get fed and bedded down – and only then can the mushers take time out for themselves.

When a team trots wearily  into a checkpoint, the checkers greets them. Those checkers are mainly volunteers, happy and welcoming people. “The first words out of their mouths are, ‘welcome to Skwentna or McGrath or Elim” or whatever the name of the checkpoint.

They then escort the team to a parking spot and tell the musher where to find the drop bags (food and supplies that have been sent up the trail in advance), heat, straw and water.

The Musher carefully sets a snow hook out ahead of the leaders and another behind the sled. This anchors the team so that they can’t run off – sled dogs just love to go walkabout.  When the team is secure, the musher comes around and takes off booties, unhook tug lines and tells the team “what great dogs they are”.

At the same time a veterinarian stops and asks to see the vet notebook, which every musher has to carry.


On arrival the dogs get a bowl of water and kibble. In the meantime, the musher has started up the cooker to ready the gourmet portion of husky checkpoint dining: a meal containing 6,000 to 11,000 calories.  These dogs need a lot of feeding!

While that’s simmering, the musher spreads straw out for the dogs to sleep in, but that comes later – after they dine.  Once the food is cooked, the musher ladles this out like some great stew made with water, kibble and meat or fish.

About the time the dogs are dozing off, mushers come round and massage the dogs’ feet, putting ointment between toes and pads.  If you had travelled one hundred miles or more in a day, you would need this too!

Next morning

Before leaving the checkpoint, the dogs get more food: meat scraps or fish and garlic powder in lots of water. This special secret soupy soup is referred to as slurry or baited water and is a great way to encourage us to drink.  Because we need to take on lots of water so we don’t get dehudrated.

Then it’s more ointment for the dogs’ feet, if possible a shoulders massage to loosen muscles, and the it’s time to ‘boot up’ – which most dogs hate, and will try and knew these boots off.  But they need them to protect their pads from the sharp ice slivers that line the trail.

Pay to view

The Iditarod organisers have started to charge to watch their videos – INSIDER IDITAROD  Insider.iditarod.com charges  $19.95 for Video on Demand/live stream live events-$19.95 for GPS Tracker-$33.95 for both

Up until a short while ago the Iditarod had sponsors lining up, and prize money was much larger.  But, as with all events in these credit crunch times, sponsorship money has fallen – so the organisers have decided to charge for their latest info.  But with the Internet, etc. fans should be able to call up all the info they need if they can’t afford to pay.

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