After Sports Were Canceled, Only the Iditarod Remained
The grueling month-long dog race was more than half complete when the coronavirus began to spread
As Aaron Peck’s dogsled cut a path across the icy Alaskan wilderness, an unshakeable melancholy crept into his normally steely focus on the task at hand. The veteran musher was trying to get to Nome. Preferably before the other mushers on the trail. He was engaged in a test of his limits, racing the Iditarod, his sport’s most prominent event. Yet what was normally a thrilling adventure for Peck, who fell in love with sled dog racing as a 13-year-old, was this year beginning to feel, in his own words, downtrodden.
The Iditarod takes complete mental and physical devotion as mushers navigate nearly 1,000 miles of remote terrain from Anchorage to Nome. It is normally an annual highlight for both the communities it intercepts and the athletes themselves.
Each checkpoint brought news of new school closures, quarantines, and overflowing hospitals.
Yet, this year’s Iditarod was much different than its previous installments. That’s because this year the Iditarod began when the world was on the brink of an unprecedented pandemic. As mushers traversed the icy expanse news started to trickle down the trail: Coronavirus was killing thousands with every new territory it dominated; global panic had set in.
“I was concerned they were going to cancel the race,” Peck said. It was an anxiety that flowed through the event as each checkpoint brought news of new school closures, quarantines, and overflowing hospitals.
While nearly every major sporting event and professional sports league worldwide did postpone or cancel their events, the Iditarod organizers decided to persist, launching a herculean, constantly changing strategy to keep the race operative.
“Everything moves hour by hour, if not minute by minute,” said Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach. “We were in a constant dialogue with the authorities, village leaders, and rescue teams.”
Toward the final third of the race, an official pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization. That’s when local…