June 22, 2018

It’s all About Team

Team building, that’s what the Iditarod is all about.  It happens on every level to make this race a success.  Months before the dogs run down the streets of Anchorage at the start of the race, mushers are busy spending days and nights building teams that will be prepared to meet the challenges of the trail. They camp with them on the trail. They give them the best of care and the best of foods to provide them the strength and energy they need to run a hundred miles a day. All of this comes together to make the Iditarod sled dog, without question, the best canine athletes in the world.

That same team building effort goes on at every level of the Iditarod Race as well.  The staff works for months to make sure all the needs of the race are being planned and supplies ordered for the trail.  Thousands of trail markers, hundreds of bales of straw for dog bedding at check points, veterinary supplies for the vet team, and snow machines and equipment for the trail breakers all need to be in place.

Then there’s the team of volunteers, without which there would be no Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Volunteers that love sled dogs and this sport have been the force that have made this race work since the very first Iditarod. From the start along the streets of Anchorage, where volunteers are there to help get teams safely to the starting line to the finish line crew in the city of Nome, volunteers are the muscle of the race. Veterinarians, race judges, checkers, pilots, trail breakers, and trail sweeps along with an endless number of checkpoint crews and locals in all the communities along the 1,000 mile trail work together to make the race happen for the dogs and mushers. It is Alaska’s largest volunteer effort.

The same teamwork is vital with the sponsors and financial supporters of the race as well. Without the sponsors there is no race. No funding for shipping food drops along the trail or supplies to care for the dogs.  This race takes a lot of financial support to meet all the needs of conducting a race across 1,000 miles of roadless Alaskan landscape.  The same can be said for the individual sponsors for each team and musher.  It takes a lot of effort and food to care for one of these kennels and the race as well. The mushers couldn’t do it without the support of all these sponsors who pull together to make sure the dogs have the best of care helping to make each race successful.

The spirit sled dogs have is both intriguing and mesmerizing. To hear the rhythm of their steps and see the purpose in their drive is to witness an animal in complete balance in its world, made more so by the pack like unity of the team. They run for the pure joy of travel which seems at times to mock those who stay behind in one place. Running and traveling is the greatest joy to them. Seeing what’s over the next hill or around the next bend seems reward enough and sled dogs pull together as a team to accomplish that.

Just as each dog plays a part in an Iditarod team, each of these components does it’s part to get the teams down the trail as well.  In a dog team each dog has a special skill.  Wheel dogs are strong and pull a little more of the weight. They know how to look ahead and set up the sled to get around trail obstacles. Team dogs keep of the steady pace of the sled and often can rotate in to take over most any positions in the team if needed. Swing dogs, right behind the leaders, are often leaders in training and help set the pace and drive the rest of the team along the trail and the leaders who search out the trial in numerous conditions and communicate with the musher about speed and direction for the team. They all must work together to have a successful race.  It is, after all, called a “dog team”.

All the components listed above are needed to have a successful Iditarod as well.  All contribute with their own special skill-set to make the race happen. If one part fails, the team fails. The Iditarod is one big team from across the state to around the world. From the checker standing out in the cold at 3AM to check in a team arriving in a remote checkpoint, to the sponsor writing a check to buy fuel for the volunteer air force, they, like the dogs in a team, each contribute to the overall effort.  Without them there would be no race.

Consider this, over a thousand dogs will get pre-race vet checkups and each dog needs to complete a successful ECG.  Imagine the volunteer man hours that takes alone. It’s worth it though to make sure the all the dogs that hit the trail are in their top athletic condition.  Iditarod dogs are the healthiest and best conditioned dogs in the world. 

The Iditarod Insider team will be covering the start and finish of the race live this year as well as every inch of the thousand-mile race trail. We’ll post interviews with the mushers along the trail explaining how their race is going, show beautiful shots of the amazing Alaskan landscape and of course show those athletic dogs moving down the trail. The Insider “Run Dog Run” videos have become an iconic view of the teams moving across Alaska’s rivers and mountains. No words needed there, the shots from the cameramen showing the teams in action speak for themselves.

By becoming an Insider, fans help support getting the teams on the trail and add to the mushers purse at the finish-line.  All subscriptions go directly to putting on the Iditarod and supporting the race.  It takes everyone pulling together to successfully meet all the challenges of the trail. Everyone, from the mushers, race veterinarians, pilots, volunteers and fans are part of the Iditarod Team.  The dogs are the athletes and main focus. They are the best athletes in the world. No animal can cover so much land as fast and they do it pulling a load and bringing a person with them. It takes all of us to support them getting down the trail.

So what will we see this year?   Will Mitch Seavey’s powerhouse of a dog team win again?? There are lots of mushers knocking at the door to become the race champion. Nichols Petit, Joar Ulson, and Wade Marrs have all proven they can raise and train top competitive teams. Everyone is interested in seeing what Jesse Royer will bring to the starting line this year after her amazing run in the latter part of the race last year. Being all along the trail and watching the race unfold I am amazed every year at how many good teams are competing in the Iditarod now. Unlike in previous years where there was a huge spread of teams all along the trail, now all the mushers seem to bring top quality dogs to the race and are running closer times together.  Over sleep at one checkpoint and you’ll lose positions as teams pass you by.  Along with the competition at the front there will be hundreds of adventure stories from all the mushers along the trail and the Insider website will be bringing you as many as possible as well as a year end race documentary DVD after all the teams cross the finish-line in None.

Join the Insider and support the Last Great Race and get the best coverage from all along the trail, start to finish.