Why the Iditarod?

The anticipation of the annual running of the Iditarod captures imaginations around the world. Teachers who are veteran followers of the race swear by its instructional value and motivational qualities. New educators are attracted by the word-of-mouth press the race gets from enthusiasts everywhere. With all the modern forms of sport and entertainment we have at our disposal - why the Iditarod?

I submit to you that the Iditarod thrives because of the modern world we live in. Life has become so standardized by all of our technologies and infrastructures. Our lives can seem sanitized and predictable in the many ways society provides for us and ensures for our needs. The romance in standing alone against a formidable challenge seems to be lost in the metaphor of a global village. Where can we look today and find the thrill of the unknown, the challenge of a frontier, the honor of men and women facing uncertainty? In the Iditarod we have found such an experience, linked to the past and free of the trappings of the modern day world we have created.

Consider the explosion of Winter "extreme" sports which have gained world-wide attention in recent Olympics. Snowmobiles, snowboards and ski gear are all part of the Winter sport landscape. Of course, there's lots to be said in favor of these events. But there is a true distinction between these pastimes and dog sledding. Somehow, modern sports can get carried away with the concept of the individual as champion, winning at all costs. There was a simpler time when people relied on one another and life seemed more precious. Rugged individualism did not mean "nice guys finish last."

The whole concept of a musher and a dog team fighting the elements of the bitter Klondike recalls that simpler time. Yes, there are winners and runners-up in the Iditarod. But how many other sporting events can you think of that have a tradition like the Red Lantern - celebrating the completion of the trail by the final team to officially end the race? The Iditarod isn't about winning; it's about surviving. The integrity of men, women and their animals braving the frozen north to complete the race is a lesson all our children should experience and internalize as they prepare for the frontier of the 21st century.

I believe the Iditarod awakens in us a yearning for a world where man is not pitted against man at every turn. In its own simplistic way, the Iditarod exemplifies the kind of world we all are striving for: everyone doing their part towards a common purpose and a common good. When the serum reached Nome in 1924, lives were saved and legends were made. Planes, trains nor trucks made the journey 1,000 miles north; it was a small band of anti-heroes who defied the weather and the odds to make a difference we still celebrate today. And therein perhaps is the ultimate allure of the Iditarod. Perhaps in our overly-complicated world there is something inspiring in the knowledge that there are still people who, through no celebrity of their own, can dare to make a difference in spite of awesome, overpowering odds. Perhaps our spirits ride along with these mushers in the hopes that we too can make a difference by facing adversity and seeing our own dreams through to their conclusion. For all of these reasons, following the Iditarod is an incredible learning opportunity in which all of us can partake.

-Walter McKenzie

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