With three months to go before the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race makes its way to Nome in 2019, those running the Iditarod for the first time took a big step Saturday at the rookie mushers' meeting.

The mandatory event for first-time mushers in The Last Great Race, held at the Lakefront Anchorage, is designed to familiarize the 10 rookies with the challenges they'll face on the trail.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm and they're also the future," said Dr. Stuart Nelson, the race's chief veterinarian. "It's also really the first official event following last year's race so yeah, it's a big day." 

In addition to advice from Nelson, 2018 champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom also addressed the group stressing patience and a calm approach.

One of the 2019 rookies, 21-year old Martin Apayaug, has a mushing pedigree. His dad Ketil is a seven-time finisher, and Martin himself has been mushing dogs since he was 4 years old. Despite his experience, he still picked up some valuable information Saturday.

"We got some nutritional advice, some advice on how it's going to be challenging mentally and physically and practically and how we're going to organize our logistics and got some very good information from the veterinarian," Apayaug said. 

Running this race is especially important to him given his mother's Inupiaq heritage. 

"There's hardly any Inupiaq people who are able to do dog mushing," Apayaug said.  "Maybe I'll be able to inspire some other Inupiaq people to be able to have a dog team."

Meantime, Jessica Klejka has returned. In 2008 she won the Junior Iditarod. Then she took time off to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. She's now a veterinarian in Big Lake.

Mushing dogs was a way of life, she said, as "she grew up out in Bethel with my whole family."

But soon after graduating vet school, she and her siblings began amassing a dog team. 

Now she and her fellow rookies, along with the 41 veterans scheduled to take the trail, look ahead to the 2019 race.

Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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