49th Running in the 49th State – More Than Just a Race


The Pre-Race Show this year was one for the books, or computers actually! The annual pre-race musher’s banquet was done completely virtually this year. Viewers got a closer look at the course, insights from the mushers themselves and video clips of just about every musher to get to know the field. 


In a way, the Iditarod race is going back to its origins. 

When Joe Redington Sr. first thought of the concept of the Iditarod sled dog race, he envisioned almost this exact course; a race to Iditarod and back. The namesake of the race itself came from this idea, and tomorrow, that vision will become a reality. The field is loaded with champions and even more full of contenders and challengers – it will definitely be an exciting race to watch.

As a teacher watching the preview, what resonated with me the most were the interesting personal stories shared by many of the mushers. Covid has affected the lives of our students in so many ways this past year, one of which has been in the area of mental health. This is an issue that many school districts, mine included, have placed front and center in the discussion about bringing students back to the classroom full time. In fact, the conversation surrounding mental health is something that has become more of a focus nationwide over the past year, and there are a few mushers in this year’s race who are hoping to raise awareness of some important issues many are facing in today’s world.

Will Troshynski, Rookie


I was truly impressed with Will Troshynski and his openness about his long time battle with depression. He hopes to raise awareness of this mental health challenge  that many others are also facing, especially during a global pandemic. In his bio, Will shares that he is transgendered and is racing in support of the LGTBQ community as well. Will is an advocate for those struggling with self identity and depression. He embodies his desire to lead by example and “continue onward”, which is the motto of his kennel.


Gunnar Johnson
Photo by Jeff Schultz Schultz Photo.com (C) 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED




Gunnar Johnson is using his 2021 Iditarod experience to honor those who have been lost to suicide. Anyone was able to submit a loved one’s name to be put on a list that Gunnar will carry with him for the length of the trail. After finishing the race, he will present and then ceremonially burn the list at the finish line. The ashes will be scattered on the frozen ice so they can be swept out to sea in the spring. This is an incredibly touching and meaningful gesture, especially to support those who have lost a loved one.  You can read more about Gunnar’s mission on his website: https://gunnariditarodhope.com/our-mission/



Larry Daugherty
Photo by Jeff Schultz/ (C) 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



For those interested in history, Larry Daugherty is planning on using his 2021 race experience to honor the spirit of the 1925 Serum Run to Nome. Larry, a radiation oncologist, is planning to carry some of the Covid-19 vaccines with him to Iditarod. As stated in his bio on the Iditarod website, “Larry’s goal this year is to mush the Covid-19 vaccine on the Iditarod Trail. He will be met by the Mayor of Shageluk at the checkpoint of Iditarod to ‘relay’ the vaccine to the native villages. Larry’s team would like to thank the scientists who have made a cure possible, the race organizers who have made this unique race possible and the many sponsors who have come together to make the ‘Covid-19 Relay’ a reality.”




Rick Casillo
Photo by Jeff Schultz SchultzPhoto.com (C) 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Lastly, Rick Casillo and his Battle Dawgs team will continue to support the veterans of our armed forces in their 2021 run. As stated on his website, his team’s goal is “To empower our Nation’s heroes through therapeutic and exciting experiences by harnessing the natural splendor of Alaska’s landscape and the majestic healing power of sled dogs.” Their motto is “Saving one warrior does not change the world, but for that one warrior, the world is forever changed”, which I believe to be quite poignant. Another example of some of the amazing people who are participating in this year’s race.



All mushers have amazing stories and causes that are dear to their hearts. The Iditarod is an event unlike any other, and these amazing men and women create its character and help bring the race into people’s lives on a more intimate level. 



Teachers: There are so many things that can impact the lives of students in our classrooms. You may have students in your class who will feel inspired by a musher’s story or may be able to connect on a personal level. One of these stories may even offer a student reassurance that he/she is not alone. In the words of the Battle Dawgs’ motto (slightly altered), “Saving one child does not change the world, but for that one child, the world is forever changed”.