Rookie Run Requirements

Hanna Lyrek coming to the finish line. Photo credit: Jim Deprez

Hanna Lyrek is the 2022 Iditarod Rookie of the Year, the first of seven rookies to cross the finish line in Nome. What is the definition of an Iditarod rookie? Technically, it is musher who has never finished an Iditarod, someone out on the trail for the first (or second, or third…) time, who has never completed the full race. That means you can be a rookie more than once, if you scratch in your initial attempt. But make no mistake, an Iditarod rookie is an experienced musher. Rookie is a relative term: new to Iditarod but with lots of prior mushing experience. In fact, experience is required.  To quote the musher sign-up form:

You are required to run two (2) approved 300 mile or more qualifying races and one (1) 150 mile or more approved qualifying race, total of 3 races. If you run the Yukon Quest, you don’t need any other qualifiers. You also need a rookie reference from a musher who has completed the Iditarod and is familiar with your mushing capabilities.

Amanda Otto Leads Mentor Jeff King to the Burled Arch (Photo Credit: Jim Deprez)

The key components are experience and endorsement.  A rookie needs to be a skilled musher and to have raced successfully prior to attempting the grueling Iditarod. And, a rookie needs a veteran, someone who has finished the Iditarod and understands what the race requires of musher and dogs, someone who believes in them, to vouch for their readiness.

Am I ready for this?

Every Teacher on the Trail™ is a rookie.  We only get one opportunity to make it to Nome. So how do I make sure my rookie run is successful? Experience and endorsement: same as any rookie musher looking to tackle the Iditarod Trail. 

My experience is teaching, an arena I feel confident in. I have done enough lessons to meet the “qualifying race criteria” for an educator. Honestly, the struggles of the past two Covid-era years have felt like Yukon Quest levels of educational endurance, so we can check that requirement off the list. Now I look to the veterans for guidance, advice, and endorsement.

Experienced Iditarod veteran Martin Buser Stands Under the Burled Arch for the 39th Time (Photo by Insider)

It was a huge vote of confidence when the committee selected me as Teacher on the Trail, especially knowing that my fellow finalists were brilliantly qualified educators. After the announcement, I heard from nearly a dozen former Teacher on the Trail veterans, all wishing me luck and volunteering their time to share insights and expertise. I have a wealth of generosity and information at my disposal and am grateful for such an outpouring of support.

Clearly the person with the most current information and relevant advice is 2021/2022 Teacher on the Trail Jim Deprez.  He also had all the important gear I’d need come race time.  Lucky for me, Jim made the trip to pass off the sleeping bag and backpack in person.  I was able to pick his brain for several hours, asking questions and hearing stories of what to prepare for and what to expect on the trail. 

Passing of the Sleeping Bag from Jim Deprez 2022 to Juli Westrich 2023 (Photo credit Jim Deprez)

Is it the same as being out there? No, but like the Rookie mushers, hearing about what to expect from a veteran helps.  It makes me feel like I’m not totally in the dark about this adventure. Jim was kind enough to share the ins and outs of Teacher on the Trail life, lesson posting, and the in-person race expectations.  I know I’ll reach out many more times to the veteran Teachers who blazed the trail before me, and I know that my experience will be better because of their invaluable advice.

Library Learnings: Kamik Takes the Lead by Darryl Baker shares the story of Jake and his puppy Kamik as they prepare for their very first dogsled race. Jake gets support and advice from his Uncle. This story highlights the importance of a good mentor when trying something new.  Jake is willing to learn from an experienced dog trainer and musher; he’s humble enough to know that, as a rookie, he isn’t going to know everything, and he respects his Uncle’s guidance.