Iditarod -- Race Across Alaska
Iditarod 2008
By Hannah Moderow
February 20, 2008
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Hannah Moderow and her dogs (Photo: Courtesy Hannah Moderow)

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1 GO!”

The Iditarod starts in less than two weeks! For mushers and sled dogs competing in the upcoming race to Nome, the mood is frenzied. Training is complete, but little details-- packing sleds, mending harnesses, and completing veterinary examinations-- are only a few of the last-minute tasks.

Mushers typically give their dogs some time off before the race-- well, mushers OTHER than 2007 Iditarod champion Lance Mackey, who won his fourth consecutive Yukon Quest championship this morning. Will history repeat itself, and Mackey go on to claim the 2008 Iditarod crown?

Among the 96 mushers that will begin the 2008 Iditarod, six have won the race before: Rick Swenson, Mitch Seavey, Jeff King, Martin Buser, Lance Mackey and Joe Runyan. While past champions are ever eager to repeat their victories, the Iditarod is a race for young dreamers. Two Junior Iditarod champions-- Rohn Buser and Melissa Owens-- will compete in their first Iditarod. These eighteen-year-old rookies may be young, but they are a force to be reckoned with!

Not only is Rohn Buser the son of four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser, he was even named after a checkpoint along the race, the Rohn Roadhouse. The young Buser completed high school in December, and will head to college in the fall. Iditarod has been in his plans for quite a few years, and his goal is “to finish with a happy dog team.” When asked about the family legacy, Rohn replied, “I am lucky to have such a good teacher.” In addition to mushing, Rohn competes in track and cross country. He enjoys the parallel lessons learned in running and sled dog racing. One example, says Buser, “You have to learn not to go out too fast in both sports.” For Melissa Owens, 2006 Jr. Iditarod Champion, the Iditarod is a race for home. Melissa is from Nome, Alaska, and the Iditarod runs thick in her family blood. Her father, Mike Owens, completed the Iditarod in 1987 and 1990. While the last portion of the race is typically difficult for rookies due to the vast expanse of the Bering Sea coast, Owens will be quite literally ‘at home’ in the barren and often windy terrain. You can believe that Melissa will receive one of the warmest welcomes under the burled arch finish line at the end of the Iditarod.

For every musher, there are sixteen canine athletes anxiously awaiting the start of the 2008 race-- over 1,500 dogs in all! Which lead dog will win the prestigious Golden Harness award? Which pup will emerge as the brightest young superstar? How many times will a musher grow weary from the marathon rigors of the trail only to be rejuvenated by the endurance of his or her dog team?

This week, mushers lie awake at night thinking about the big day, while their dogs howl to the moon, frantic to get onto the trail. One thing is for sure-- race anticipation is at its peak.

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go!” will be music to the ears of mushers and their faithful teams of huskies on March, 1, 2008.


Hannah Moderow took her team of dogs on the Serum Run last year. Check out an audio slide show of her trials on the trail.