Iditarod Heroes and Leaders

Cindy Abbot’s Red Lantern Awards

If there is but one commonality amongst people of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences, it is that there is often someone in your life whom you admire, respect and often aspire to be. While the Iditarod is the perfect tool to help teach qualities such as perseverance, respect, determination, focus, and integrity, learning about many of the individual mushers, their missions, and their backgrounds opens the opportunity for students and adults to gain new role models and perhaps heroes.

Here at summer camp, the other teachers and I have had the honor and privilege to meet and learn about several mushers who are amazing, noble and honorable!

Cindy Abbott

At first glance, Cindy Abbot may appear to be only a musher (which is remarkable in and of itself). However, this dedicated wife, mother and two-time Iditarod finisher is a world-traveler, extreme scuba diver, former college professor, author, advocate who raises awareness for rare diseases, and a mountain climber! Cindy has summited Mt. Everest which makes her one of the few women to have accomplished this incredible feat. In 2015 and 2017, Cindy received the honorary Red Lantern Award for her Iditarod finishes- an award which symbolizes tremendous perseverance. In 2007, Cindy was diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis- a serious and rare disease. Instead of letting this disease cripple and impede her, Cindy used this as a catalyst and a source of determination to achieve her goals and aspirations. Her motto of advancing and worrying about 10 feet a time is something which has been proven to help lead to success!


Rick Casillo

Rick Casillo, an eight-time Iditarod finisher, has dedicated his life to his non-profit organization, Battle Dawgs. Rick’s mission is to help raise awareness for combat veterans, especially those who struggle with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Rick views and treats every warrior as a family member. His organization is responsible for saving the lives of several warriors who have served our country in battle. Rick wanted to be a Marine himself but was denied several times due to hearing issues. Despite not serving in uniform, it is evident that Battle Dawgs and Rick’s countless hours that he dedicates toward this endeavor are commendable services to our country, our servicemen and our servicewomen.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom

Joar Leifseth Ulsom is a six-time Iditarod finisher and is most notably known for being the 2018 Iditarod Champion! Joar exhibited patience, exerted effort, set goals, overcame mental and physical obstacles, and endured through the dangerous elements along his journey toward becoming the champion of this year’s race. Aside from mushing, Joar values education and the idea of children learning from the best curriculum. On top of mushing, Joar has dedicated his time and energy toward supporting Racing Beringia– an online curriculum which has been geared toward students in grades k-8. Joar is looking forward to working with the Iditarod Education department this year! We’re incredibly excited!

It was unbelievable being able to meet and learn from these mushers! Their integrity, character, and missions are significant and noteworthy. As teachers, it is our goal to guide students toward becoming compassionate and caring citizens. Additionally, we want to empower and enable every student to strive for success and exceed expectations. Like Cindy, Rick, and Joar, many of the other mushers are excellent role models. Share the Iditarod and the mushers with your students! Let them learn about the mushers and their backgrounds. The inspirational influence which your students may gain could be life changing and everlasting!