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From Sled Dogs to Bulldogs: Home Away from Nome

Posted on April 14, 2010 in: @Gonzaga, Academics, Alumni, Students
Iditarod Sleddogs, photo from iStockphoto.com

Iditarod Sleddogs, photo from iStockphoto.com

By Tara Schmidt
Class of 2012

Tara Schmidt

Tara Schmidt

In my hometown, spring is a time of unbridled excitement. Starting the first Saturday of March, over 1,000 sled dogs, 70 wild-eyed mushers, and countless tourists make their respective treks to the place I’ve called home for 15 years: Nome, Alaska.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the longest sled-dog race in the world, is 1,200 miles across a good hunk of Alaska, through dense forest, over jagged mountain ranges, desolate tundra, windswept coast, sea ice, in temperatures plunging well below zero and intense wind.

This year’s race made history when Lance Mackey arrived in Nome at 2:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 16 in first place – becoming the only musher in Iditarod history with four consecutive wins.

The Iditarod is also partially responsible for my existence. The role of matchmaker was played by KNOM, 780 AM and 96.1 FM in Nome. It intertwined the fates of a U-Dub botany grad and a 33-year-old Oregon Duck, who later became my parents. Mom had been a volunteer for two years and a trail reporter for one. In the summer of her third year, 1984, she met Ric Schmidt. Three weeks later, while enjoying a beachside bonfire, my dad asked Lynette Berger to marry him. “I surprised myself. I said ‘yes,’” said my mom. About 50 feet away on that beach, she recalled, was a headless, rotting walrus carcass. (Poachers kill the walrus, take the head for tusks and leave the rest.) “Thankfully,” Mom said. “It was downwind.”

Though she had pipedreams of becoming a musher and running the Iditarod herself, come March Mom was spending another two weeks on the Trail, reporting for KNOM. She’d call Dad at the station for the trail reports while my padre worked in programming and production, producing spots, interviews, and deciding what to put on the air.

The couple moved away from Nome to get married and start our family. I’m not sure if they ever planned to go back. But after my dad quit at KBVM in Portland, north they went to Nome, with five little ones, in December 1995. Now Dad is KNOM’s general manager while Mom manages the station’s
finances.

During Iditarod, KNOM comes alive with excitement, the Iditarod map drawn on the window in studio A, reporters calling in from the Trail, interviews with mushers, Trail updates and “I-did, I-did I did the Iditarod Trail” plays over and over on the airwaves.

If you’ve seen Disney’s “Balto,” you know the Iditarod commemorates a sled dog’s heroism in 1925. That’s when a diphtheria epidemic threatened many Nomites’ lives. The antitoxin was raced from Nenana, where the railroad ended, to Nome. Twenty teams relayed the serum 674 miles in 127.5 hours — considered a world record, set in extreme subzero temperatures in near-blizzard conditions and hurricane-force winds. The first official Iditarod Race started on March 3, 1973.

I missed the Iditarod this year. It didn’t sync with Gonzaga’s spring break. But I’m not the only Alaskan who found her way to Gonzaga and missed the Iditarod. There are 18 others from the Last Frontier in my class alone — and more on their way. I can’t speak for all Alaskans, but for me Gonzaga feels like Home Away from Nome.

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