Tag Archives: Sled dog racing

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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How to burn 12,000 calories a day

Coast Guard sponsored Iditarod musher Ken Ande...

Image by U.S. Coast Guard via Flickr

Sorry – you have to be a sled dog racing in the Iditarod

To do this run, these elite canine athletes burn up an incredible 12,000 calories a day, whilst they race across Alaska in the annual Iditarod dog sled dog race.

Mind you , their mushers don’t do too badly – they probably burn around 6,000 calories per person per day. 

If you are serious about losing weight, going mushing locally might be an option.
Racing in long distance races in North America, such as the Iditarod, the Yukon Quest, or in Europe on La Grande Oddysée, the dogs’ diet has increased for this year’s racing.  About five years ago it was normal to give dogs around 10,000 calories per day.  But times have got faster, helped by scientifically-planned nutrition, and now, for the Iditarod,  they get an extra 2,000 calories to keep them running around 7 – 9 hours a day, around 14 hours a day, over the 1100 mile course.

Even a sled dog kept in a European kennels, running fewer hours a day taking visitors on rides, can burn up 6,000 miles a day – and humans who go dog sledding can certainly find this sport makes a very effective slimming regime.

So if you want to get fit, enjoy outdoor sport and love dogs – going dog sledding could be a way of shedding the pounds.

And this is easy to do, all over the world.  Even in Britain, without much snow, enthusiasts have adapted sleds to run on wheels, and every weekend during the winter sees events happening up and down the United Kingdom.

What do the dogs eat?

Their bodies require protein, fat, carbohydrate and fibre, with fat being the most calorie-dense. To cover their caloric needs, more fat may be temporarily added to their diet, especially when temperatures are most bitter. This is done gradually over several days as too much fat added suddenly can cause diarrhea.  Often these dogs run at night, when the temperature drops to a dog-friendly minus 30 – 60 degrees (yes, the colder the better they like to run), but this increases their calorie consumption – and the musher’s as well.

Each musher calculates his/her own dog food diet but most feed a premium power-packed dog food with added options of lamb trimmings, poultry skins, hamburger, moose or salmon steaks, occasionally corn oil, and for some, seal oil or mink mixture, in addition to vitamin, mineral, and probiotic supplements. The musher aims for a food that is about 2500 calories per pound. Water is important too, and although the food is usually fed frozen and raw, snow may be melted for making a stew.

After their rest and sleep, the musher will mix up their first meal of their day, and this will probably be a sloppy mixture of the packs of food they give normally, plus lots of water or liquid.  This the dogs must take on board, as it helps to keep them dehydrated – you can’t pour water out of bottles for them at minus 30 degrees.

Originally when dog sledding was in its heyday, mushers would carry all the dog food in their sleds, or else expect to pick it up at homesteads along the way.  But now, with 60 – 70 teams of 16 dogs descending on the small villages along the way,the food is ready-packed before the race, and dropped by small planes at each checkpoint.

What do mushers eat?

Everything and anything that keeps out the cold and keeps you going.  They all carry their favourite snacks in little packs that they can grab as they are running along, and these will contain anything they like.  If they run out of human food, it hasn’t been unknown for them to grab a handful of doggie snacks.  Yes, the dogs get snacks along the way too.

But you burn up so many calories that no-one worries too much about calories;  it’s energy you need and your food is providing this – you hope!

So I want to lose weight – how to I start if I live somethere like Britain?

First, go see.  If you go onto the Siberian Husky Club website  (there will be similar ones all over Europe for local clubs), and look for Events, forthcoming races, etc. there will be a list of what’s happening in the next months.  Turn up in warm clothes and boots you can run in, and if you offer to help – stewarding, recording, etc. you will be welcomed with open arms.

Just watching can be fun, but if you are involved with ‘holding’ on to the dogs whilst they are waiting to run – you burn up the calories.  Those dogs are powerful and they don’t want to wait for anyone – just get running.

The picture on the left was taken by noted dog sledder Alan Bowering, and shows just what strength is needed to get these dogs harnessed up.

Then, once you are hooked, ask to go on a run.  Many of those running will offer runs to enthusiasts, for a fee, and you start with a couple of dogs – to see if you like it.

Kennels are all over Britain, mostly from Watford north up to the tip of Scotland, so you are bound to find an enthusiast near you.  Again, if you can’t find anyone go to the club website to find contacts.



If you want to learn more about sled dogs, a book written by an amateur takes you through the history of sled dogs, and gives background information about these incredible hard-working canines.  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.

AND IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, go back to HOME page and click on Iditarod for more about the race, its incredible history, and some of the mushers who have overcome cancer to finish this 1100 mile race.

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