Today is the beginning of one of the toughest (and most egalitarian) races in the world.
The Iditarod covers 1,160 snow-covered miles. The race commemorates the heroism of sled dog mushers who, against the odds, delivered serum from Anchorage to Nome during a diphtheria epidemic. In 1927 before a vaccine was developed, this was a serious disease, killing up to 15,000 people a year. Mortality was highest among children. In January of that year children in the Nome area began dying of the disease. The crucial diphtheria antitoxin couldn’t be sent by ship due to heavy ice. Blizzards halted attempts to send it by plane. In a last ditch effort, it was put on a train but even that stopped nearly 700 miles from Nome.
Dog-sledders stepped up. A musher met the train, loaded his sled with medicine and raced his team to a checkpoint to meet the next team. Twenty mushers driving approximately 150 sled dogs brought the antitoxin 674 miles in five and a half days. This record has never been broken. The lead dog on the last leg of the journey was Balto, who become famous for saving the people of Nome.
Today the Iditarod is one of the few sports where women compete directly with men. Past winners include Susan Butcher and Libby Riddles. More than a quarter of this year’s participants are women.
Share this epic race with your kids
Learn more about this year’s Junior Mushers, like 14-year-old Aiyana Ferraro and 16-year-old Abigail Brooks. Read their profiles, check race updates, and select a favorite to follow from checkpoint to checkpoint.
Watch a selection of How Stuff Works videos explaining mushing terminology, vet care for the dogs, and more.
Guide a dogsled to bring medicine to stricken villagers in the online game Serum Run.
Watch Iron Will and the animated film Balto.
Design your own dog sled as Geek Mom Jessamyn did with her children.
Read aloud Akiak: A Tale From the Iditarod, The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail, Storm Run: The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, The Mystery on Alaska’s Iditarod Trail , or The Adventures of Balto: The Untold Story of Alaska’s Famous Iditarod Sled Dog.
Older kids and adults will enjoy Race Across Alaska: First Woman to Win the Iditarod Tells Her Story,
Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, Back of the Pack: An Iditarod Rookie Musher’s Alaska Pilgrimage to Nome, or No End in Sight: My Life as a Blind Iditarod Racer.
For more in-depth information, go to Northern Light Media, run by the folks on the scene each year.