A True Pioneer

Statue of Joe Redington Sr. at the Iditarod Headquarters

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.

                        –Marcus Garvey


Each year, dozens of courageous mushers sign up for the Iditarod with hopes of completing the more than 1,000 mile extreme journey from Willow to Nome. Thousands of fans flood the state of Alaska to witness the race and cheer on the mushers. Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe eagerly follow the race as mushers progress and advance to the various checkpoints. Although the continued success of the Iditarod can be very much attributed to the work of thousands of volunteers, this invigorating event would not be in existence had it not been for one man’s determination and dream.

Katie Mangelsdorf, author of Champion of Alaskan Huskies, visited summer camp and spoke to all of us about Joe Redington Sr., the Father of the Iditarod. Katie spoke about how since his childhood years, Joe Redington Sr. was fascinated by the writings and stories of authors who wrote about Alaska and the Far North, especially Jack London. Having been influenced by the vivid literature, Joe resolved that he would move to Alaska….and that is what he did!

For many years, Joe was employed by the U.S. army and was tasked with Rescue and Reclamation, a job which required him to use a team of sled dogs to recover wrecked aircrafts or rescue personnel. Years later, Joe was hired to help promote a dog-sprint race for Alaska’s Centennial celebration. Joe’s vision of the race grew and with a significant amount of work and planning, the first Iditarod took place in 1973. It is important to know that Joe created this race because he wanted to preserve the history of Alaskan huskies, sled dogs, and the sled dog culture. Additionally, he wanted to preserve the history of the old mail trails and freight trails which ran from Seward to Nome. Many people thought Joe’s idea was unattainable and crazy; however, Joe never gave up. 

Jon Van Zyle Painting of the Historic Iditarod Trail

In 1973, there were 22 finishers and the winning time was a little bit more than 20 days! This past year, there were 52 finishers and the winning time was 9 days and 12 hours! It amazing to see how the race has evolved and how its popularity with participants and fans has grown over the years.

Joe Redington Sr. has effectively shown the world that you can achieve your goal, with hard-work, vision and determination, even if it may seem outrageous or unreasonable. As teachers, it is important for us to help students make goals and develop an action plan. Share Joe’s story as a model of goal setting. Additionally, consider using the Iditarod map as a way to help track the progress of a goal; each checkpoint could represent a milestone of achievement. You must ask yourself: what is there to strive for if one does not have any goals? Dream big and strive for success!