To begin, allow me to clarify the overall musher stats from my Early Edition, as there were some last minute changes. Two, to be exact. First, as you likely know, Jeff King underwent emergency surgery just days before the start. He's recovering well, but had to hand his team over to someone else if he wanted them in the race. That someone else was a handler from his kennel, Sean Underwood. So no change to male vs female there, but we do swap a very seasoned Iditarod veteran for a rookie.
The other change was a last-minute, post-Ceremonial swap that is being touted as the latest in Iditarod history. Unfortunately Zoya DeNure withdrew at the last minute for personal health reasons, but her husband John Schandelmeier was able, and approved, to step in. He's technically an Iditarod veteran, having entered but scratched in 1993, and outside of that John is no stranger to mushing having won the Yukon Quest twice. This change also has one impact to our stats - swapping 1 male veteran for 1 female veteran.
So while ultimately we still had 57 mushers off the starting line, and 45 are veterans with 12 rookies; now 43 are men and 14 women; of those 14 women, the twins are two of the only 11 returning female veterans.
Having cleared all that up both for my benefit and yours, I spent some time reading through each musher's biography notes on the Iditarod website. As usual, it is a very interesting cast of characters out there with diverse backgrounds and interests. Here are some themes that jumped out at me.
Not All Rookies Are Created Equal.
Every Iditarod rookie has to successfully complete a number of sanctioned mid-distance races in order to enter the big one. Above that baseline, experience levels vary. Some mushers are relatively new to the sport and in a season or two racked up the training miles and race qualifiers to enter Iditarod. A few others have completed other ultra marathon events like the Yukon Quest and are new to Iditarod but in no way new to long distance mushing. A couple rookies to watch in the latter category include Martin Massicotte from Quebec and Mille Porsild from Denmark. Martin has won the Can-Am Crown 250 ten times and completed the Yukon Quest. Mille ran an 800-mile race in Russia and has done numerous long-haul treks with freight dogs lasting from 2-6 months and for as far as 3,000 miles.
Survivors of Accident and Adversity
If you're an Iditarod fan, you undoubtedly know of Lance Mackey, An entrant in 15 Iditarods, a finisher of 13, a champion of four in a row from 2007-2010. And, he's a cancer survivor. Overcoming that sort of adversity and continuing to do what he does is impressive. And then there's Karin Hendrickson, who suffered severe injuries when a truck hit her and her dog team in 2014. I remember sitting near her on a flight to Nome not long after it happened, when she was attending as a spectator. She was in one of those clam shell devices that limits torso movement while a back injury heals. She's out there on the trail. Musher Meredith Mapes was rattled in 2011 when a snowmachine hit her team during the Aurora 50/50, but she shook it off and got back on the runners.
That reminds me of a close encounter Kristy and fellow musher Tom Knolmayer had with a car and their dog teams a little over a year ago. Lots of mushers have similarities with the twins beyond their love of dogs and mushing. Jason Campeau has identical twin daughters. Monica Zappa was born and raised in Wisconsin. Quince Mountain is from Mountain, Wisconsin, and the only musher technically representing the state this year. Apparently he is also allergic to dogs?! He must really love them and the sport if he does this anyway!
As Seen on TV
Folks, particularly those in Alaska, have probably caught Kristy and Anna on TV a few times, be it in Iditarod news coverage, a recent GCI promo spot, or the episode they did for Living Alaska ages ago. They're also often in print, from the cover of Runners World to the center of Mushing Magazine. That kinda sounds familiar, too. Musher Nils Hahn and his family are publishers of the oldest newspaper in Alaska, the Nome Nugget, and also publish Mushing Magazine. And if you've ever watched Life Below Zero, you've probably spotted musher Jessie Holmes. Lance Mackey also has a great documentary about his life, The Great Alone.
Is There a Medical Professional on the Trail?
Why yes, yes there is. Need a dentist? Check with Kelly Maixner (did you know he was also a state champion boxer?). Want to get another opinion on this corona stuff? Chat with Robert Bundtzen. He moved to Anchorage to start a consultative infectious disease practice. He knows Wisconsin, too, having attended university there. Larry Daughtery is a radiation oncologist. Damon Ramaker is an emergency department nurse in Minnesota. I can imagine he's seen a lot in the ER. One of the few that has likely seen more is Dr. Tom Knolmayer, who spent 28 years as a military surgeon, including 4 combat tours, before retiring from the military and beginning work as a trauma surgeon in Alaska.
Focus on Charity
A number of mushers are very involved in a particular charity, including some of our medical professionals. Larry Daughtery co-founded Radiating Hope. Larry seems like one of those rare super humans that does it all. This year, he's making another attempt at "Iditarest", the unusual feat of completing the Iditarod and then climbing Mt Everest in the same year. He nearly accomplished it in 2017. Damon Ramaker's family founded The Deep Root. Musher Alan Eischens is partnered with the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. And Linwood Fiedler, 66 years old and competitor in 25 Iditarods, is heavily involved in Arctic Paws For Service.
Let's Start A Band!
I think there's enough talent kicking around this year's Iditarod field of mushers that we could get a passable music group going. Tim Pappas, originally from Wyoming, allegedly likes "ripping the banjo." Fabio Berlusconi, our musher from Italy (who got into mushing by way of Sweden) plays the guitar. And Jim Lanier, 79 years young, lists singing among his hobbies. And I suspect there are other mushers in the field that could bring musical talents to the table if called upon. Maybe one day...