The Rookie and the Last Great Race on Earth

Most major sporting events were sidelined in 2020 due to COVID-19. But not this one, which itself might be the ultimate form of social distancing. And this was the year alumna Gabe Dunham and her team of athletes were ready for it: The Iditarod.

Gabe had been working with dogs since she was a teenager and mushing since 2000. She graduated in 2015 with a degree in natural resources and an appreciation for animals and wildlife that only deepened with experiences as a wildlife trainer at the High Desert Museum and as a wildlife technician with the U.S. Forest Service. She eventually settled in Montana where she has a kennel of 30 Alaskan huskies. 

At the starting gate in Willow fresh snow had fallen. Rookie racers don’t usually run with their own dogs, so Gabe and her team drew attention. She had raised each one since it was a puppy. Together they raced across the tundra, through 15 checkpoints, where the dogs were fed and bedded down, and over 750 miles to Unalakleet.

 The dogs “have the time of their lives,” said Gabe. She saw one of her team members, Tempest, leap high over a bump. “She swan dived through the air and I knew there was no place else she’d rather be.”

By the time they sledded in to Unalakleet, some of her team showed signs of a respiratory infection. Their health is her top priority; it was an easy decision to pack up and bring the dogs home to recover.

She already has her sights on next year’s race.