'My dogs were the true heroes.' Janssen honored for Iditarod selflessness
Thursday afternoon, Scott Janssen, known in the dog racing world as the "Mushin' Mortician," was presented by Alaska State Representative Matt Claman with a legislative citation in recognition of a great contribution.
"What Scott did on the Iditarod is such an inspiration," Claman said. "People often think about finishing the Iditarod and they don't realize the risks people take every day when they are out racing on the trail."
On Marth 16, 2018, only 40 miles away from the Iditarod finish line in Nome, Janssen was poised to make only his third Iditarod finish in seven years.
"The trail is a lot like life itself," Janssen said. "Everything can be going along peachy fine and then, whoa, what just happened."
That's exactly what happened to Janssen. He prepared to make a quick dash to the finish leaving most of his warm clothes in White Mountain.
"When I took off, I was making really good time," Janssen said. "My team was just charging ahead. I was expecting that I'd be running up the hills, and granted, I'd be finishing in like forty-second place, but it doesn't matter where you are at, this is a race. You want to catch the headlamp ahead of you and stay ahead of the headlamp behind you. I made the boneheaded move of leaving with limited gear on."
Janssen took off on the trail three hours after his friend Jim Lanier. The stretch of land, approximately 15 miles long, adjacent the Bering Sea is termed the "Blow Hole" because of the intensity of wind gusts and turbulent, inclement weather patterns and lies between the Iditarod checkpoints of White Mountain and Safety. The area had turned around Janssen, Lanier and rookie Emily Maxwell hours earlier. It was time to take a second chance at the stretch.
"My dogs were the true heroes," Janssen said. "They are just the best dogs. They all work in unison. I saw a lot of cool stuff on the trail because of them. I'd watch their ears perk up and the whole team looks together. So, I look where they look."
Going through the storm on the trail, Janssen was solely focused on the trail markers.
"All of the sudden, all of my dogs ears perked up and they all looked to the left," Janssen said. "So, I looked to the left wondering what's over there."
As Janssen looked, the light from his headlamp hit Jim Lanier's sled.
"Way through the storm I could see reflectors," Janssen said. "Jim had reflectors on his sled on the stantions, if he wouldn't have had them, I never would have found him."
Janssen called his wife from a satellite phone when he left White Mountain with an estimated time of arrival in Nome. He called her again on the trail with an updated time before he found Lanier. Janssen's wife Debbie would later be instrumental in sending out a rescue team for the men when she made a call to the Iditarod Committee a few hours later.
Just ahead of Janssen on the trail, Lanier lost his way in the storm, veering off course toward the open water of the Bering Sea. When he turned around, his team became stuck on some driftwood.
"He was so easy to miss," Janssen said. "That's how other people missed him. If it wasn't for me, at that time, looking at my dogs and seeing them all look left, I would've went right by him."
Janssen found Lanier and for two hours tried to help him get him.
"My thought was I'd get him free and be on my way," Janssen said. "That's not what happened. I worked up such a sweat that I became cold and hypothermic, too. My hands were frozen and we couldn't push the buttons on the SOS boxes on the sleds."
Out of the blue, Janssen says, bikers on fat tire bikes appeared through the storm and came to their aid, eventually helping the men set off their alerts and beacons for help. Together, Janssen and Lanier decided they had to bow out of the race.
"I just hopped on the snowmachine with Jim," Janssen said. "Off we went, I didn't even think about finishing the race. I was just focused on trying to keep him warm and I knew my dogs were in good hands with the rescue crew."
The men and the dogs were all recovered.
"Someone who puts saving someone else when they are that close to the finish line is such an inspiration," Claman said. "He's an Alaskan hero."
Family and friends of Janssen were in attendance along with his State Representative Jennifer Johnston.
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