I recently had the honor of introducing Martin Buser to a large group of folks visiting Alaska. Martin is a four time Iditarod champion, and he recently presented "You're Only As Fast As Your Slowest Dog: Elevating the Entire Team for Maximum Performance" during a keynote address in Juneau. Click the video below to learn more about the 1925 serum run to Nome and how it led to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race - the toughest race on Earth.
Not to rub it in Texas’ face, but we ARE the largest state. To put it in perspective, if Alaska were placed on top of the continental United States, it would stretch from northern Minnesota down through Texas, from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California and all the way over to Savannah, Georgia.
We’re not just a huge state, but we’re a young state. Let me tell you a story. Just 89 years ago, while New York City was becoming the largest city in the world, we were facing an epidemic up here in Alaska.
Diphtheria began to spread – and the only doctor in Nome didn’t have enough antitoxin to go around. He sent an urgent telegram alerting Juneau and Washington, D.C.. 300,000 units of antitoxin were located in Anchorage, but Anchorage is over a 1,000 miles from Nome.
By this time, the port near Nome was icebound and inaccessible by steamship. So I know what you’re thinking, “Why couldn’t they just fly in the antitoxin to Nome?” Well, keep in mind there were only three vintage biplanes operating in Alaska in 1925. They had open cockpits and water-cooled engines – and we can all agree that -50 degrees temp and water don’t mix.
So they resorted to a form of transportation that had proven successful for centuries – they used dog mushers instead of pilots; they used sled dogs instead of trains.
And so began one of the most famous events in the history of Alaska – the 1925 serum race to Nome. They packed a 20 pound cylinder of serum and handed off to twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs. These teams relayed the package all the way to Nome along the historic Iditarod Trail. This was a race in the truest sense of the word – a race against time and a race to save lives.
To honor this life-saving highway and the history of dog mushing, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was organized in 1973. As today’s keynote speaker can attest, it is considered the Toughest Race on Earth.
The race covers over 1,000 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer. Imagine jagged mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forests, desolate tundra, and a windswept coastline. But this doesn’t happen in the summer. Because that would be too easy. This race happens in the dead of winter. In below zero temps and long hours of darkness.
You know, sometimes I get this wild idea that I should run the Iditarod, but then it occurs to me I don’t actually own any dogs and I like to be warm. So instead, I fly out to Nome each March and volunteer at the Finish Line. And I can tell you, it doesn’t matter if you’re watching the first musher or the last musher complete their race – there is so much electricity in the air and we’re all there together – celebrating the best teams in Alaska.
Give me a show of hands if you’ve ever worked in a team.
Okay, then you’re bound to benefit from this morning’s keynote speaker.
He entered his first Iditarod in 1980, and has run every race since 1986. In thirty Iditarods, he has won the event four times. His fastest finish time was 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes, and 2 seconds.
More importantly, he was awarded the coveted Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award an unprecedented five times for his outstanding care of his dog team. That’s kinda like getting “Boss of the Year” at your agency not once, but five times.
So now on to the Man of the Hour, the man who’s love of his team has taken him the distance of twice around the world at the Earth’s equator – the man who has accomplished SO MUCH while on the back of a wooden sled with sixteen of his best friends – I give you Iditarod champion, Martin Buser!