I am feeling very Iditarod today

The Jamaican bobsledding team made a grand story. But this is an even more extreme example. It’s not Olympic, it is the kind of gruelling challenge that must boil down to a profound curiosity about how far you can push yourself, and about the basic question of survival. Newton Marshall is part of the Jamaican Dogsled Team.

A frosty-lashed Newton Marshall before the start of the 2009 Yukon Quest.
Photo: http://www.jamaicadogsled.com

When I saw this feature story in tabloid VG’s online edition, I wasn’t sure it was for real. Jamaican Marshall, 26, only saw snow for the first time three years ago. Now he is a full-time dogsledder. “When I’m not in the north I arrange dog-cart trips by Chukka Cove near Ocho Rios (in Jamaica),” he told VG.

Marshall is now in training for the Iditarod, the pinnacle of competitive dog sledding, and an ordeal of nearly unimaginable arctic conditions. Marshall had no idea what he was getting into when he first journeyed to the Yukon Territory two years ago to begin learning in earnest.

A year ago at the Copper Basin 300 race in Glennallen, Alaska, he suffered frostbite on his nose as temperatures sank to -50C, a memory that stands out as his worst meeting with cold – so far.

Iditarod legend Lance Mackey is Marshall’s trainer. Lance has won the last three Iditarods, and is the third Mackey to win the event. “He is simply the best. I’m lucky to be allowed to train with the reigning champion,” says Marshall.

Norwegian dogsledder Ketil Reitan has invited the Jamaican to the planned ‘The Arctic Race’, which aims to be the world’s longest, running from Russia, through Finland and Sweden, to Norway.

“I know that he has completed the Yukon Quest and trains with Lance Mackey,” Reitan told VG. “That alone is a sign of quality,” and adds that many rate the Yukon as tougher than Iditarod, since it has longer stages and takes place earlier in the year.

Reitan said that a good team of dogs and thorough preparation are the most important ingredients, and doesn’t rule out Marshall going from a first view of snow to a top spot at Iditarod in three short years.

“Some people learn very quickly. We have had people here from Cameroon who have only seen snow on TV and have done just fine,” Reitan says of his work offering tourists dogsledding in Østerdalen.

And the story of Marshall and the Jamaican dogsledding team has  also become a film – a documentary with the unsurprising title ‘Underdog’.

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