Well, like most news reports, they got it half right – Mackey did get a Three-peat. The race is over? Not hardly. Yesterday saw the first three mushers in to Nome – but there were still 54 teams out there. This, to me is the magic of the sled dog races. The race goes on – with as much interest, discussion and angst by the fans until the last team crosses the finish line.
Races traditionally have burning an old red lantern at the finish line. Called the Widow’s Lantern, it remains lit from the start of the race until the last musher is off the trail. That last musher to cross the finish line blows out the flame for another year and is awarded a trophy – The Red Lantern.
If you look at the historical statistics for the race you will find listed together – the first in to Nome winner and the Red Lantern winner. Placement of all the others who ran the race can be found – but with a lot of research.
In many sports, coming in last is a placement to be ignored or quickly forgotten – especially by those who have been there – but NOT in mushing circles. . . I have several autographs of mushers both active and retired and under their names they sign Red Lantern and the year they won it.
Far from being a symbol of failure, it is a sign of personal success and character – that the Red Lantern Winner had it in themselves to continue on, often alone on the trail and to complete what they started even without the ‘Bright Lights of Broadway”, to show that the true grit of old is still alive, that just getting the job done IS a victory. Honor comes with finishing, not necessarily by just finishing first. Perhaps this is something we all should remember in life.
Character is something which is common in the mushing community. Are there jerks out there racing dogs? Sure there must be – they all are humans, but I think there are a lot less of them than in other sports or in life. Mushing is NOT about the musher – it IS about the dogs. The dogs make the decision to run or not run. As Jeff king said “you can’t push a rope”. The musher must establish a relationship where the dogs want to work for him/her. Then to be in any way successful – dog care must come before their own comfort. Most mushers get to Nome and state they have not slept for two or three days – he dogs have – not the humans. The ego of the superstar sportsman does not lead to this commitment. This goes back to the mantra of dog owners everywhere – ALWAYS TRUST THE DOGS – and when 16 dogs will run a thousand miles pulling a sled for a person – well – that person can’t be all bad.
Another story of character – Libby Riddles, first woman to win the Iditarod, is retired from racing – but still very involved in the sport. It seems like she heard about the back story of Wade Marrs, 18 year old rookie from Knik, AK. Raised by a single mom, mushing has been his passion since he was a little kid. He has run the Junior Iditarod twice and won the Humanitarian Award. Somehow he was able to assemble a team and the funds to run the race this year but, as Libby found out, the money for his Mom to fly to Nome and meet him at the finish line was not there.
Libby knew that Mom should be there and put the word out and started collecting money for Wade’s Mom’s plane ticket. Today, we all got the word – Mom is in Nome. Libby is as close to a super star as they come in this game – but her concerns were for a rookie and his mom. This is Character. Thanks to Libby and all those who donated to get Mom there on Front Street, Nome.
Another backstory is that of a dog – Happy – from the kennel of Aliy Zerkle and her husband Allen Moore. This is the link – http://spkenneldoglog.blogspot.com/2009/03/iditarod-2009-happy-story.html
-watch the videos. You will find out why Happy has become the fan’s choice for Superstar of the 2009 Iditarod.
Nope, the race is not over – there are too many winners still out on the trail.
And Happy needs her kiss.