Insider features Rookies Bacon and Helwig

Kristen Bacon came to Iditarod volunteering as one of the Skwentna Sweeties. She was introduced to Ryan Redington out at Skwentna during the 2011 race. A few weeks later, she acquired her first sled dog(s), a female named Libby and her eight pups. The friend who introduced her to Redington is of Japanese descent so Kristen used Japanese nature as the theme in naming the litter – Miyuki (quiet in deep snow), Taki (waterfall), Kaze (wind), Yashi-No-Mi or ‘No-Mi (coconut), Eewa (boulder), Yama (mountain), Karasu (raven) and Harinezumi or ‘Zumi (Hedgehog). Those pups from her first litter are 5 years old now and seven of the eight will be on the Iditarod Trail with here in 2016. Eewa and Zumi are proving to be excellent leaders. When heading to her home with eight newly acquired sled dogs, Kristen knew her life was about to change drastically. By the way, I wonder what the Japanese terms for gee, haw, hike and whoa are.

Mushing is Kristen’s avocation while Physical Therapy, her vocation, pays for dog food, dog care and mushing equipment. She’s known for sharing the sport of mushing with special needs children in the community. Bacon and her ever-amazing therapy sled dog, Tricky, offer adapted mushing opportunities to her pediatric clients.

Quoting from, here’s Kristen’s take on signing up for Iditarod, “My eyes widened as I began printing out all the required forms:  Rookie Reference Sheet signed by a seasoned Iditarod finisher; Application with biography, mushing history, photograph, etc; Liability Release; Anchorage and Nome Housing Request Forms; List of Sponsors; Musher Membership Form; Banquet Ticket Form for March’s start banquet; Dog Care Agreement for vet care during the race; Two Local Contact Forms for Dropped Dogs; Iditarod Trail Questionnaire;  previously completed Musher Assessment Form/”Report Card” for 3 qualifying races totaling 750 miles… oh, and a $3000 entry feeWhy is taking one step closer to a dream such a mix of emotions?”  

Mary Helwig first stood on the runners behind a team of sled dogs while working as a youth leader for the Covenant Church in Unalakleet, Alaska. It was a short women’s sled dog race put on by the Norton Sound Sled Dog Club but Helwig says, “I was instantly hooked.” Since then she’s worked at Jonrowe Racing Kennel and Middy Johnson’s Siku Kennel. Mary’s first mid-distance race was the Portage 200. About that experience she says, “I knew I was all in.” Within two years, Mary had formed her own team under the name Bravo Kennel. She’s bred and raised seven of her current Iditarod stars. For the past three years she’s developed her team and her own skills during thousands of miles of training and multiple qualifying races.

In mid June of 2015, just like many of her neighbors, she was enjoying a sunny summer Sunday afternoon when the Sockeye fire ignited. Of course, everyone hoped the fire could be brought under control but just in case Mary collected a few belongings if she and the dogs had to evacuate. There were the necessities for the dogs like vaccination information, new harnesses, food, dishes and water. For herself she collected a few special keepsakes and her computer along with her critical mushing gear – purple parka, insulated bibs, boots and beaver mitts. When the evacuation order was announced, she loaded the dogs into the dog truck and headed south on the Parks Highway to Bacon’s Acres. Along the way, she stopped to help other mushers evacuate their dogs.

Less than two weeks later, Mary was at Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla for the annual Bolunteer and Musher Sign-up Picnic.  She was the thirtieth musher to sign up for the 44th Iditarod.  About the upcoming race Mary said, “Even though I lost my home and nearly all my belongings in the Sockeye Wildfire, I am determined to run my first Iditarod in 2016.  I am looking forward to mushing ‘home’ to Unalakleet and greeting my friends from there to Nome.”

Mary is rebuilding and plans to have a garage with an upstairs apartment ready by the time fall training begins in earnest. In an interview with Laureli Ivanof of the Alaska Dispatch News, Helwig showed her unyielding spirit saying, “This disaster and rebuilding will prepare me for the difficulties of the Iditarod.”

Amazingly, her sled came through the fire unharmed.  The fire line came right up to it but nothing was melted or charred. It’ll be used for racing this season. Perhaps as a promise of hope for Helwig, a planned litter of four puppies arrived only days after the fire. She calls them the Sockeye Wildfire Litter and they’ll have names to reflect the event. Mary says, “Dogs are my life. Right now they’ve kept me going, they give me purpose.”  Helwig who holds a BA degree in psychology is currently studying to become a veterinary technician.

Enjoy the Insider Video interviews with these two incredible women who are training for the 2016 Iditarod.  Don’t miss any of the Insider action.  Subscribe or renew at this link

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