“Camaraderie is built through shared agony and laughter. “

Thiart comes into the FINISH after a long voyage. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Today, just after noon, the journeys of Gerhardt Thiart and Bridgett Watkins came to an end – a successful finish in the 51st Iditarod. Their trip to the burled arch in Nome began more than a year ago when they both started the 2022 Iditarod ready to meet the challenge of mushing across Alaska. Thiart was reaching for a dream that began two decades ago in his home in South Africa.  Watkins, an ER nurse, was continuing a family passion for dog sledding; a legacy passed down from her father Allen Moore and step-mother Aliy Zirkle, both of whom have multiple Iditarod finishes.

Thiart under the arch and the South African flag. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

So what took so long?  Last year a horrible storm outside White Mountain caused challenges and both mushers had to scratch. They were less than 50 miles from the end of the grueling race, they were injured, and they were together. The shared experience of coming so close and making the difficult decision to put self-care and dog safety ahead of their dream, is one few can relate to.  But these two knew exactly what the other went through because they lived it, too.  “Camaraderie is built through shared agony…”

An emotional Watkins arrives in Nome. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

The journey wasn’t over when they scratched last year. Thiart and Watkins returned to Iditarod 2023 with “unfinished business” as Thiart’s motto declared. Much of the race they were near each other, but as they came to the coast it was clear they were going to complete this race in companionable competition. I can’t even begin to imagine the feelings as they mushed past the area where they scratched last year, pushing on to Nome, with better weather and the finish in sight.

Watkins – finshed with the finish – heads off to get her dogs (and herself) some rest. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Thiart arrived first, at exactly noon, with 10 dogs and beaming with excitement and joy. The South African national anthem played and he was cheered on by a large crowd.  Eight minutes later Watkins came down Front Street to enthusiastic fan support. She arrived under the arch in good spirits. When she and Thiart hugged, finally completing this momentous journey, her bubbly laugh burst forth and Thiart grinned from ear to ear – here was the “laughter.” These mushers have a true camaraderie developed from difficulty and sealed in success. Congratulations Bridgett and Gerhardt on your 2023 Iditarod finish!