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Episode 44: Comeback Trail

By KTVA Alaska 8:50 AM February 29, 2016

The Iditarod has become a never-ending story. Every year, from the front of the trail to the back of the trail, there are new chapters about stamina and endurance — and the powerful bond between dogs and humans.

In this week’s program, we profile two mushers from Willow, DeeDee Jonrowe and Jan Steves. Both lost their home in last June’s Sockeye wildfire, and they’ve been racing just to get to the start line.

It’s hard enough just to plan for a 1,000 mile run to Nome, let alone to do so while recovering from a devastating fire. Jonrowe and Steves could have easily been given a pass for sitting this race out.

Jonrowe lost her mother a few weeks after the fire, and Steves’ son Tyler died nine days before it swept through her property. She was in Seattle mourning his loss when she received news of the wildfire.

On Frontiers this week, we spend some time with both women as they prepare for one of their most challenging Iditarods ever — with new or borrowed gear, completely untested — running dogs they say are prepared, but not as much as they would have been, had they been able to train in a normal year.

Both women say they’re running this race for their lost loved ones. Steves will be carrying her son’s ashes in small wooden vial, on a chain around her neck.

If both complete their runs, this will only add to the Iditarod legacy.

Our guests this week, Frank Flavin and Rob Stapleton, speak to that legacy in a book they contributed to, “Iditarod: The First Ten Years.” It’s a remarkable anthology of personal stories and photos compiled by a group of people who helped get the race started. They simply call themselves the “Old Iditarod Gang.”

The book itself was a marathon experience. It took almost five years to cull through 2,000 photographs and hundreds of contributions.

[For more information about the book, click here to visit the website.]

The result: A mosaic of memories that captures the spirit of those early days, when the race was new and evolving into what it is today.

But the book also perhaps explains why mushers like DeeDee Jonrowe and Jan Steves feel they have no choice but to stay the course on their comeback trail.

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