The real reason for the Last Great Race on Earth
A movie is set to hit theaters nationwide that chronicles the 1925 serum run. "The Great Alaskan Race" tells the story of Leonhard Seppala and his dogs Togo and Balto, part of a mushing team that braved the worst conditions to help get medicine to Nome, where children sick with diphtheria were dying.
The serum run has long been associated with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race, and it's generally believed to be the reason behind the annual contest. However, Joe Redington Sr. and his wife Vi had different motivations when they organized the first Iditarod in 1973.
Katie Mangelsdorf wrote Redington's biography, titled "Champion of Alaskan Huskies." She's an author and former teacher who taught in rural Alaska for many years.
She recalled a conversation she had with Redington. "He says, 'I've been trying to talk ever since the race started and tell people I didn't live along the serum route. I lived along the Iditarod Trail.’"
The Iditarod Trail ran from Seward to Nome and was critical for transporting supplies and mail during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Mangelsdorf said Redington’s reasons for creating the race were simple — he wanted to preserve the history of the Iditarod Trail, mushing culture and the Alaskan husky.
Mangelsdorf said that Redington loved dogs and adventure and respected history and culture. So, as time passed, he became disheartened with what was becoming prevalent in villages along the trail — snowmachines.
"He flew into places that had lots of dog teams, and now they were replaced by the snowmachine. And that broke his heart," Mangelsdorf said.
She continued, "Now he had two reasons to get something going that would preserve the history and also preserve Alaskan huskies. And that's when he said, 'Let’s have a race to Iditarod.'"
Redington would eventually decide the finish should be in Nome instead, as it's a larger hub.
The inaugural Iditarod race was in 1973, and word of its grandeur and challenge quickly spread around the globe.
But how did the serum run get linked to the Last Great Race? Mangelsdorf believes that a newspaper story published in 1978 misinterpreted Redington's intent.
She added that the misunderstanding may have been because Seppala was named the honorary first musher for the race’s first few years. “I don’t know why the misinformation came up, but the connection to the serum run was made.”
Ultimately, the race and Redington’s spirit live on. And mushers and their dog teams continue to honor Redington’s inspiration by celebrating mushing culture, Alaskan huskies and the Iditarod Trail each year.
"Champion of Alaskan Huskies" can be found online and at local bookstores.
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