Courtesy photo Students of Mrs. Schumann’s class at Hawthorne Elementary School listen to Air Force veteran Cody Burke last week.

Submitted by Audrey Merritt

Cody Burke, an Air Force veteran once stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, visited Tricia Schumann’s third grade class at Hawthorne Elementary School. He shared information about their current event, the Iditarod. Burke attended the race years ago and shared a wealth of information with his former teacher and her students.

Burke explained that the Iditarod is a race run by sled dogs, led by mushers. The race has been run every year since 1973 by mushers from fifteen countries around the world, though most competitors are from Alaska. There were only twenty-two teams who finished the race in 1973, but since then there have been over four hundred teams that have finished. There are two routes for the Iditarod – the North Trail and the South Trail. The official length of the race is 1,049 miles in honor of Alaska becoming the 49th state in the Union.

Between sixty and one hundred teams compete in the event annually. Each team must start the race with sixteen dogs and finish with at least six. Each year, there are typically fifty teams that compete which means there are over 1,000 dogs in every race. Only northern dog breeds are admitted into the race. This is because these breeds are specifically bred to withstand the extremely cold climate. Temperatures have been known to dip down below minus-100 degrees.

The winner of the very first Iditarod was Dick Wilmarth; it took him almost three weeks to finish the race. Mitch Seavey holds two records for the race. He is the oldest person ever to win the race at age 53 with the fastest ever completion time, crossing the finish line in eight days, three hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds. Mitch’s son, Dallas Seavey, holds two records as well. Dallas is the youngest musher ever to compete and win the race at age 25. He holds the record for second fastest completion time. He crossed the finish line at eight days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds.

Burke also pointed out that two women have won the race. Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the race in 1985. Susan Butcher was the second woman ever to win the Iditarod in 1986. She went on to win the race three more times.

Burke took questions from students after his presentation. The children were intrigued to learn more because he’d actually been to the race. Everyone felt compelled to continue further study about this wonderful Alaskan tradition.