Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Most of you know, I am not much into sports, especially gladiator sports where idiots smash into each other’s bodies and spectators swill beer and scream obscenities at the players and think they are having a wonderful time. Or those idiots who honor the rum runners and outlaws from prohibition days by racing their cars around a dumb circle, mile after mindless mile, while the crowd sits there screaming waiting for the inevitable crash. these sports do not take brains and in fact might take the opposite to be dumb enough to do these things and sacrifice their bodies for the glory of running a ball down a field or smashing up a car that costs more than the average American’s annual salary. I mean, really.

There is one sport, however, that I do pay attention to – the Iditarod. First, a little history:

In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a life saving highway for Nome, Alaska. The city was stricken with diphtheria and serum had to be brought in.  Dog mushers and their faithful hard-driving dogs were the ones to get the medicine through to Nome.

  • In 1925 a diptheria epidemic threatened Nome, and the only antitoxin was in Anchorage.
  • The only two planes available at that time had been disassembled, and had never been flown in the winter.
  • A twenty pound cylinder of diptheria serum was sent by train from Seward to Nenana.
  • It was passed to the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs, who relayed the package from Nenana to Nome.
  • The dogs ran in relays, with no dog running more than 100 miles. (Time was of the essence – no time to rest and start out again.)
  • A Norwegian man named Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog Balto arrived in Nome on February 2, 1925, just five days after leaving Nenana.
  • The first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began on March 3, 1973 with 34 teams. Twenty-two teams finished 32 days later.  The oldest musher to compete was Col. Norman D. Vaughan, who last competed in 1992 at age 84. He died in 2005 at age 100. This race honors those heroes, the mushers and their dogs that saved many lives by getting that serum to Nome the only way possible back then. Compare that to car racing which is based on the illegal outrunning the law carrying booze from the bootleggers to the gangsters who sold it, where the “heroes” were the crooks who could outrun the law to the dog teams who ran to save laws. (I often question our use of the word hero in today’s vocabulary where so many of today’s heroes are those who kill or hurt others. Funny how language works, isn’t it?)

    Anyway, the Iditarod has morphed a bit since the 70s… the rules now have to include things never thought of back then. Take this from this mornings Iditarod Update:

    The first news is out this morning... Brent Sass has been disqualified for having a 2 way communication device (read iPod-touch) with him on the trail. This is a NO NO and is covered in the pre-race orientation, rules and regs, blah, blah, blah session. Maybe he just wasn't paying attention during that part? Maybe he thought no one would catch him? Maybe he thought the race officials would really believe it was solely for listening to music? (Your grandma’s old iPod for playing music from the 50s and 60’s???)  Maybe it was an honest mistake like when he said, Gee, I didn't know I could use it for that... REALLY? He SAID THAT? Yep. So maybe he is an idiot?  Or maybe he just thought he could cheat and not get caught. After all, he used the same thing while running the Yukon Quest.
    Remember back about 10 or 12 years ago, a musher restructured the standard musher's sled to include a seat. Yep. And he started winning more races that way. Well, duh. If you have a good team and they know the way, you can sit down and take a little rest, some have even dozed off, while the team is trotting along happily flapping their tongues in the breeze, wagging their happy tails, and hopefully staying on the trail. They stop when they get hungry, OK?'This is the contraption that 16 dogs from KMA Kennel are going to pull to Nome hauling their mother, @[750881657:2048:Heidi Sutter], along for the ride of a lifetime.  The Gang Line is hooked to the front of the sled, a pile of Harnesses lay in wait to the right of the bright pink bag laying on the ground.  The bag on the ground will be strapped on top of the Sled Bag acting like a car top carrier.  The cooler also acts a seat and the purple material is configured as a seat cushion and also unfolds and stretches out to make a sleeping pad/insulation under her sleeping bag when needed.  Some items carried in or on the sled have 2 or more functions, thus saving weight and space.'
    This, BTW, is Heidi Sutter's sled and gear. Love those colors!
    Musher Jeff King likes to invent. Several years ago, he added a comfortable seat to his sled. After falling asleep and falling off the sled, King added a seat belt: "Musher Jeff King has developed a new, sit-down sled that some have labeled the Iditarod Barcalounger. King said it helps him get more rest, although he almost lost his team this year when he got to resting so well he went to sleep and fell off. He's since added a seat belt." In 2006, King added a heated handlebar to warm his hands and his food, which heats up to 200 degrees.
    But he can't phone home on it!
    So now, sleds with seats are common. Shame DeeDee (Jonrowe) didn't have one back when she fit training for the Iditarod in-between her chemo treatments. Remember the year she ran the Iditarod bald? So what if she didn't come in first... she finished the damned race. That makes her a winner in my book. Actually, that was when I really began to pay attention to this race. (In July 2002, Jonrowe was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three weeks after completing chemotherapy, she competed in the Iditarod, placing 18th. The story was widely publicized, and in 2003 she won the Most Inspirational Musher Award, and was named the honorary chair of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.)

    As many of you probably remember, years ago we used the Iditarod as a reading tool in the school where I taught… there is an entire program called the Idita-Read program, and it became my job to coordinate Iditarod activities throughout the school. This included marking out a trail around the school, roughly to scale, 1 foot = 1 mile, seeing to it that each class room sponsored at least 2 mushers (in case one dropped out), learned about them, and moved their “dog” down the halls along the trail as they kept up with their team on the internet. We concluded with our own award ceremony which included awarding the Red Lantern to the class with the last musher to cross the line in Nome.

    The kids learned a lot about the geography of Alaska, mountains and snowy terrain so different from the shore, as well as a little about dogs, their care, and moose, especially how big they really are, by making a lifesize moose (out of heavy craft paper) and putting it in the hall. The moose had to have its head down because its shoulders hit the ceiling. That impressed the kids sometimes more than anything else.

    What impressed me the most as I ran off the biographies of over a hundred mushers, were the ages of some of them – this is not just for the young athletes – but also the educational backgrounds of most of them. OK, I confess… this list is not complete… I left off the mushers who did not go to college or just started out as kids in the mushing families. It is almost expected they would follow in the footsteps of their families… but I found from the first year I did this, a large number of physicians, vets, and other PhDs, shrinks, dentists, and even a funeral director up in Alaska running their dogs! In this race, the women compete equally with the men, and age be damned. So, out of the 25 females running, here are 20 of the more interesting brief bios.

    · Cindy Abbott, 56, was born and raised in Nebraska. After graduation from California State University, Fullerton, with a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology in 1996, she became an instructor there.

    · Jodi Bailey, 46, grew up on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, MA, a world away from mushing and arctic winters. She earned her BA in Theater Studies and Anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

    · Gwenn Bogart, 57, was born and raised in Vermont. She has B.S. and B.A. degrees from Colorado Technical University. Gwenn has had professional careers in horsemanship and fly fishing. She co-founded Casting for Recovery (CFR),, an international breast cancer support group headquartered in Manchester, VT, that uses fly fishing for mental and physical healing.

    · Yvonne Dåbakk, 32, was born and raised in Mainz, Germany. She moved to Oslo, Norway, in 2001 to study physics. She received her PhD in Plasma and Space Physics at the University of Oslo, Norway, in 2010.

    · Zoya DeNure, 38, was born and raised in Wisconsin. As a young girl, she traveled the world as a fashion model, walking the runways in Milan, Italy and Shanghai, China. After 12 years in the field, Zoya was ready for a change. Soon after returning home from Italy, she bought a Siberian Husky named Ethan and from there, new dreams realized.

    · Paige Drobny, 40, born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, says she moved all over growing up. She graduated from Virginia Tech in 1997 with her B.S. in Biology and from UAF in 2008 with her M.S. in Fisheries Oceanography. Before moving to Fairbanks in 2005 for graduate school, she lived in Vermont and was a fisheries biologist.

    · Marcelle Fressineau, 60, was born in Switzerland. She attended college in Switzerland, where she received a degree in math and science, and worked there as an adventure outfitter for 12 years.

    · Cindy Gallea, 63, grew up on a farm in Minnesota where she experienced the pleasure of the outdoors and the good feeling of interacting with animals. She graduated from the University of Washington in 1990 with a Master’s degree in nursing. She has worked as a nurse practitioner for the last 24 years.

    · Ellen Halverson, 54, was born and raised in North Dakota. She received her degree in Biology and Music Education at Concordia College in Minnesota and then went to medical school in North Dakota. She has been a psychiatrist since 1991. She moved to Alaska in 1998 for a job at the Alaska Guidance Clinic, which is now Providence Behavioral Medicine.

    · Yuka Honda, 42, was born and raised in Niigata, Japan. She attended the university in Japan, studying Agriculture Physics.

    · DeeDee Jonrowe, 61, was born in Frankfort, Germany, while her father was in the military. The family moved to Alaska in 1971 where her dad was stationed at Ft. Richardson. DeeDee has a B.S. degree in Biological Sciences and Renewable Resources.

    · Katherine Keith, 36, was born in Minnesota and lived there until completing high school at which point Katherine decided that it was time to pursue her dream of going to Alaska. She graduated from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 2008 with a degree in Renewable Energy Engineering.

    · Becca Moore, 43, was born in Heidelberg, Germany and raised in Berlin. She went to Colorado State University where she earned a B.S. in Natural Resource Management in 1997.

    · “I grew up in Willow, AK, surrounded by dogs and loving winter,” says 27 year old Lisbet Norris. “After high school, I moved to Fairbanks to attend university. At UAF, I cultivated a love for the North. I studied in Norway and Baffin Island and worked as a musher and expedition guide. I received my BA in Northern Studies and History from UAF in 2011.

    · Christine Roalofs, 46, was born in Ohio and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She received her DMD from the University of Louisville and a certificate in Pediatric Dentistry from Children’s Hospital in Buffalo. In 1999, following completion of her residency, she moved to Wasilla, where she worked as a pediatric dentist for two years.

    · Jan Steves, 58, was born and raised in Edmonds, Washington. In 2009, she moved to Alaska to run dogs and train for the Iditarod. A 1974 graduate of Edmonds High School, she attended the University of Washington.

    · Heidi Sutter, 39, began mushing in 1999. “I am a special education and regular teacher at Slana School. I specialize in working with children diagnosed with autism and severe behavioral issues.

    · Isabelle Travadon, 53, was born and raised near Paris, France. For the last 30 years, she has been a dog and cat breeder.

    · Monica Zappa, 31, was born and raised in northern Wisconsin where her family lived off the land and off the grid. She holds a B.S. in Meteorology and a M.S. in Geography from Northern Illinois University. She also completed one year of a Ph.D. program at the University of Oklahoma where she also worked at the National Weather Center.

    · Aliy Zirkle, 45, was born in New Hampshire. She spent her childhood in New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Missouri. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Biology and Anthropology and came to Alaska in 1990, where she lived in a wall tent on the Alaskan Peninsula and worked for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

    And now the more interesting men: Out of 53 men, I have listed 24 of them, including the youngest,18 and the oldest this year, 74. 23 of the 53 men have a degree or some college education including vet med, people med, education, engineering

    · Seth Barnes was raised in a small Gulf Coast town in Alabama. He went to school at Mississippi State University, where he earned a degree in Chemical Engineering.

    · Bryan Bearss, 38, was born and raised in Michigan. He received his B.S. in Outdoor Education from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, in 2000. He continued his schooling in Alaska, attending Alaska Pacific University and getting K-8 teaching certification, and then he went on to University of Alaska Anchorage to receive an M.E. in Educational Leadership.

    · Jason Campeau, 40, was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA. He graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a BA under an athletic scholarship playing hockey.

    · Lachlan Clarke, 58, was born and raised in Derby, New York. He graduated from Principia College in Illinois in 1979 with a B.A. in History and Business Administration.

    · Rob Cooke, 48, was born and raised in Worcester, England. He received his BA and MA in Humanities in the United Kingdom. He was an aircraft engineer in the British Royal Navy.

    · Richie Diehl, 29, was born and raised in Aniak, Alaska. He graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Technology.

    · Matthew Failor, 32, was born and raised in Ohio. He says, “My family taught me a love of the outdoors; camping, fishing, canoeing, backpacking, hunting, were all things we did on family vacations. My mom and dad and brothers and sister all enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle. My three brothers and I are Eagle Scouts.” Failor moved to Alaska in 2006 for a summer college job as a dog handler at Gold Rush Sled Dog Tours. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Photography in 2007.

    · Linwood Fiedler, 61, was born in Vermont. He received his BSW at Carroll College and his MSW at University of Montana.

    · Ben Harper, 18, was born in Texas, raised in Washington, and moved with his family to Alaska in 2011. He has just graduated from high school in Wasilla.

    · Trent Herbst, 44, was born and raised in Wisconsin. He completed his education at University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse with a major in elementary education and has been a teacher ever since.

    · Tim Hunt, 49, was born and raised in the Detroit, Michigan area. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1989 with a degree in Veterinary Medicine and has served as a veterinarian on the Iditarod Race.

    · Scott Janssen, the “Mushing Mortician,” 53, was born and raised in Crookston, Minnesota. He married his high school sweetheart, Debbie, in 1980. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1985 with a B.S. degree with a major in Mortuary Science. Scott and Debbie moved to Alaska in June of that year for Scott to work as a funeral director at Evergreen Memorial Chapel. He has been a mortician and funeral home owner for the last 29 years. They now, along with their friend, Jordan Eastman, own five funeral homes in Anchorage, Eagle River and Wasilla, including, Evergreen, as well as Alaska Cremation Center and Eagle River Funeral Home under the name of Janssen Funeral Homes.

    · Jim Lanier, 74, was born in Washington, DC and raised in Fargo, North Dakota, where his family moved when he was six years old. After receiving his medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis, he moved to Alaska in 1967 to serve at the Native Hospital with the US Public Health Service. A pathologist at Providence Hospital for thirty-some years, Jim is now retired from medicine, but not mushing.

    · Kelly Maixner, 39, was born and raised in North Dakota. After graduating from Montana State University he went to dental school at Nova Southeastern in Ft. Lauderdale, where he received his dental degree. Kelly moved to Alaska in 2007 for a pediatric dental residency.

    · Allen Moore, 57, was born and raised in Northeast Arkansas where he received a degree in Biology from Arkansas State University.

    · Hugh Neff, 47, was born in Tennessee. He grew up in Evanston, Illinois and attended Loyola Academy and the University of Illinois. Before moving to Alaska in 1995, Hugh worked as a professional golf caddy in Evanston, Illinois.

    · Curt Perano, 42, was born in New Zealand and raised in Singapore, Europe, the United States and New Zealand.

    · Brent Sass, 35, owner and founder of Wild and Free Mushing, has been racing and training huskies for 12 years. Originally from Excelsior, Minnesota, Sass moved to Alaska in 1998 to “fulfill a lifelong dream of living in Alaska.” He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks (1998-2002) where he graduated with a major in Geography. Disqualified first day out.

    · Mark Selland, 57, was born and raised in Minot, North Dakota. After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of North Dakota, he went to medical school, graduating from Washington University in St. Louis in 1983. He moved to Seattle, where he did his residency in internal medicine and while there, developed an interest in mountaineering and high altitude medicine. In 1988, he came to Alaska to work in a high altitude research lab at 14,000 ft. on Mt. McKinley. Over subsequent years, he participated in many climbing expeditions in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the Himalaya. In 1993 he had the good fortune to summit Mt. Everest. After doing cardiology training in Denver, he moved to Alaska in 1996 where he has worked for the Alaska Heart Institute since.

    · Lev Shvarts, 35, says, “I was born in Kiev, Ukraine, back when it was part of the Evil Empire. My parents took my brother and me and moved to the Boston area in 1989. I went to school there, and bounced off to college in Pittsburgh.” Lev received an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2001.

    · Scott Smith, 45, was born in Maine. He attended Unity College and the University of Maine studying fisheries and biology.

    · Alan Stevens, 25, was born and raised in Sugarland, Texas. He moved to Colorado in 2008, where he attended college and worked as a bike mechanic. He received a B.S. in Engineering in 2012, and worked at the Colorado School of Mines doing research in waste water bioremediation.

    · Philip Walters, 32, was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Lanham, Maryland. He attended the University of Georgia as a Music Education major and was a member of the UGA Redcoat Marching Band, graduating in December 2004. He moved to Alaska immediately after graduation, having fallen in love with the State on a visit in 2002. Philip began working in the Anchorage School District in 2005, teaching for eight years at Bartlett High School; he currently teaches at Nicholas J Begich Middle School. He earned his master’s degree in music from the American Band College of Sam Houston State University in 2010.

    · Steve Watkins Jr., 38, enjoys adventure, adrenaline and historic challenges. He has worked on the front lines of war zones since 9/11 as both a tabbed US Army Airborne Ranger and a civilian in the areas of engineering, real estate, training and security. He was stationed in Alaska in 2000 after graduating Commandant’s List from West Point Military Academy, where he excelled in football, combatives, theater and student government. Steve is a decorated veteran of Afghanistan, a contractor in Iraq, a retired Army Captain, and a 90% disabled veteran. He holds a B.Sc. in Engineering from West Point, a M.Sc. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and he has a Top-Secret Security Clearance. Steve is well published and highly regarded in the area of post-conflict environment nation building. He developed real estate in South Africa and the Philippines. He started an Arabic online fashion merchandise company (

    What an interesting bunch! I mean, you expect folks who have been raised in a dog racing family to follow in the sled tracks of the family, but these folks just somehow found their way to this sport.

    And for you Iditarod haters… I used to be friends with one of the vets that worked this race. He LOVED dogs and if he thought there was any cruelty involved would have been the first one to speak up In fact, that is why he got involved in the first place – to shut the race down. Yep. He headed up to Alaska with that sole purpose believing that the race was cruel to the animals. He discovered it is a lot harder on the humans than it is the dogs. He became a vet working for the race, sure that he would be able to close it down. Instead, he found these were really very pampered pooches, probably cared for far better than you with your dogs tied out in your yards ignored all day while you are at work, ignored while you sit and drink your beer watching TV, ignored while you are off fishing on the week-end… His plan was to start a sled dog rescue group and rescue all these pooped pups. instead, he started a retirement kennel for the pups that grow old or get injured and can’t race (never argue with a moose!) and he finds loving homes for them where they can still run if they want, to the best of their ability, even pull small loads around – it seems to be in their blood. He would NEVER sell a dog to someone in a city or an apartment, and his sales contract is about 8 pages long making sure the animal is truly care for. The fines are enormous for violating the contract. Anyway, this is all past history, tho his daughter and her family have carried on the mush-puppy retirement tradition.

    So for those of you who post those long anti-iditarod rants, it will be instantly deleted. Save your energy. This post is about the people, not the true champions.

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