Mush: An Opportunity of a Lifetime
“It was cold, but so worth it,” stated Sydney Martin, a senior at Valor Christian High School, who volunteered in Nome, Alaska during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The Iditarod Trail is roughly 1,000 miles long, beginning in Anchorage and ending in the Bering Sea town of Nome. In 1925, the Iditarod Trail captured national attention as 20 mushers and their heroic dogs carried life-saving serum to diphtheria stricken Nome. The race, which typically lasts from nine to 13 days, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.
Martin, along with her mission group, stayed in a church that backed up to the finish line of the race. Martin explained that sirens went off 15 minutes before a musher was about to cross the finish line, allowing townspeople, friends, family and volunteers to rush to the spot and cheer for each team. After crossing the finish line, each musher shared something interesting about their trip, such as the one musher who had to defend his sled dogs from a moose.
The sled dogs wore jackets and little booties on their feet during the race. As the teams came through the finish line, Martin shared that the mushers threw the dogs’ booties into the crowd. “The kids in town were going crazy to catch the booties,” Martin laughed.
Martin and her group took shifts through the night on dog watch duty for the dogs that had come through the race. They wore security badges that let others know they were meant to be there. The volunteers were not allowed to touch the dogs or take photos of them. “We made sure they were safe and sleeping and not shivering,” Martin said. They worked in teams and would take breaks in the “warming hut” which Martin said was still only about 20 degrees. “Our eyelashes froze from our breath!” Martin said with a smile.
In addition to night dog watch duty, Martin volunteered during other Iditarod festivities, such as a basketball tournament that hosted teams from all over Alaska. Martin enjoyed Bible school lessons with the children in the town and helped with early morning food prep for the Iditarod banquet, despite half of Nome losing power. At the banquet, Martin helped serve food and enjoyed seeing the mushers receive trophies. Martin had her badge signed by some of the mushers as a souvenir. “Some of the mushers had frostbite on their faces,” Martin added.
The highlight of the trip for Martin was going dog sledding. “It was so cool and really indescribable. In Nome, there are really no trees; it’s just tundra. We got to see snow covered plains and the dogs were so happy to be running,” Martin shared.
By Lisa Nicklanovich; photos courtesy of Sydney Martin