The Sports World Loses a Truly Courageous Competitor
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race is called the “Last Great Race on Earth,” and that is no understatement. It certainly is the largest test of strength, determination and courage that any sport could possibly provide. For those who are not familiar, this annual long-distance race is run in early March and the distance covered is the span between Anchorage and Nome.
A ‘musher’ and a team of sixteen sled dogs make up a ‘contestant’ and the race can take anywhere from nine-to fifteen days, depending on the harrowing weather that can come up at a moment’s notice.
Beginning in 1973, the Iditarod was actually first put together in order to test the who the best sled dog mushers actually were, however, it has over time grown into one of the most highly competitive races in the world. 2011 was the year where the fastest time was set by a man named John Baker and his team, who arrived in Nome and crossed the finished line in 8 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds. This year a musher with a very familiar name, seeing as that he won the race in 2004, came back to win it again. Mitch Seavey earned the right to preen in 2013 at the age of 53, making him the oldest person to ever win the race.
The history behind the Iditarod trail, itself, is amazingly interesting. Becoming one of the four National Historic Trails in 1978, the Iditarod is actually named for the town which was a small village that turned into the bustling center of the “Inland Empire’s Iditarod Mining District” in 1910, and then back into a literal ghost town when the gold rush came to an end. Many portions of the unique and harrowing trail were used only by Eskimos for hundreds of years, before the Russian fur traders descended in the early 1800s.
As many know, Alaska is one of those far distant places that requires anyone who wishes to be a part of the stunning surroundings to have a strong back and a strong enough will to survive. For a long while, Nome was simply known as being icebound, where dog sleds had to be used in order to deliver mail, firewood, food and other extremely necessary supplies across the endless Interior. As time went on, bush pilots took over the delivering of such items but the dog sleds were still used in the most rural parts of Alaska. Yes, even though snowmobiles came to life eventually, the dogs still remained a major part of daily life.
Mushing was always seen as a popular sport, and grew bigger when mining towns and villages shut down. Although many do not know, the Iditarod was not the first competitive event that took place in this frostbitten area of the world. All the way back to 1908, the AAS – All Alaska Sweepstakes – was a part of the State; a race that went from Nome to Candle and back again (roughly 408 miles). This is when the first beautiful Siberian huskies were introduced to the frozen tundra and quickly became a familiar site by becoming the most favored racing dog in the world.
People have a hard time even fathoming the fact that Iditarod teams are – in most cases – facing blizzards, whiteouts, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds that literally make the ‘high’ of the day -100 degrees. In addition, the trail itself is truly harsh; frozen tundra combined with forests, hills, mountain passes that are beyond life-threatening even when its clear and the sun is shining bright, as well frozen rivers have to be crossed. And even though the race begins in the ‘big city’ of Anchorage, the trail is mostly all about small towns and villages and Eskimo settlements that are spaced quite far apart, leaving a whole bunch of emptiness for the contestants.
Yet even with these hideous conditions, the Iditarod is still the most popular sporting event in Alaska, and the top mushers and their teams become local celebrities when the race is over. There’s no shortage of competitors, either. Annually, more than fifty mushers and about a thousand dogs are a part of this competition, and many come from fourteen countries. Over history, an international team has won the race, as well as two women mushers named Libby Riddles and Susan Butcher – the latter being the talented musher who not only won one race but then dominated the entire field for five years straight.
Sadly, one of the best competitors this year has passed away. A fantastic five-year-old by the name of Dorado was found dead on Friday; he asphyxiated while getting buried in snow during severe wind during the race. A rookie musher by the name of Paige Drobny had Dorado on her team but dropped him from the race on Monday so he could be cared for in an area already set up for situations just like these. The musher finished in 34th place, however Dorado – who was last checked at 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning – didn’t make it across any finish line.
The Iditarod this year was, yet again, a race filled with excitement and courage, but a veil of mourning is now being worn by the competitors. All anyone can hope is that the ‘shy but happy’ Dorado left the frozen tundra doing what he loved to do. God bless…
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Until Next Time, Everybody,