This past week the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race made national news. The winning musher with his team passed beneath the famous burl arch on Front Street in Nome. As fans cheered, that old gold rush town on the Bering Sea came to life. Believe it or not, 95 years ago Nome had an even more significant reason to celebrate.
In January 1925 the lives of countless children in Nome were at stake. Although not as widespread as the coronavirus, an epidemic of diphtheria threatened the entire town. Because Nome did not have a sufficient amount of antitoxin, fears grew. Dr. Curtis Welch, the local physician, telegraphed for help. The only supply of serum was in Anchorage.
But a major obstacle yet remained. How would the needed medicine get to Nome to stave off the epidemic? Since the Bering Sea was frozen and there were no railroad tracks or roads that led to Nome, dog teams were the only solution. Scott Bone, Alaska’s territorial governor (who would later become editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer), authorized the time-sensitive operation.
The units of serum were packed in a cylinder and wrapped in fur and canvas. The precious cargo was transported from Anchorage to Nenana on an overnight train. From there it was transported 674 miles by a sled dog relay in a race against time. It was a distance mushers who delivered the mail normally covered in a month. But the dying children needed the antitoxin much sooner than that.
The first musher took the insulated cylinder 52 miles and passed it on to the second musher who traveled 31 miles. From musher to musher the relay continued involving a score of sled dog drivers and their teams. The needed medicine arrived in Nome just 127 hours after the life-saving mission began. Nome’s children were saved.
Did you know the Iditarod was established in 1973 as an annual means of commemorating “The Serum Run of 1925?” Since learning that fascinating fact, I’ve had the opportunity to cover the event as a member of the media. I’ve also written a book about this amazing race. Although I’ve never been as cold as the night I stood at the finish line, I was warmed by what I witnessed. Those lean and fit canines are devotedly cared for by their loyal and loving masters. They are masters who know it takes a team to reach a desired goal.
As our communities continue face the unknown consequences associated with the coronavirus, may the events of what took place in Nome 95 years ago inspire us to do our best. Let us not forget what can be accomplished when we pull together as a team and keep our eyes on a common goal. What it takes to save lives (or to win first place) has not changed. Reaching the destination of our dreams requires racing against time and believing we can win.