This is the season of the most excitement in Nome: the Iditarod! When I first heard about this on my phone interview, I asked “I did a what?” It is the dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome, over 1,000 miles over some of the most rugged terrain on earth. All in honor of the 1925 race to get the Diphtheria vaccine to Nome during an outbreak that was killing communities. In 1925, Nome was 10,000 people, more than twice the size it is now. Back then there was one doctor and four nurses–I can’t imagine!
So the great race of mercy was organized for Alaska’s best mushers (dogsledders) to carry the serum to Nome through a relay. They endured temperatures of 50 degrees below zero, frostbite, blizzards, dangerous conditions, carrying it over sea ice and rivers to bring the life-saving vaccines to Nome.
By the story’s report, they first thought the outbreak was tonsillitis, and it was a nurse, Emily Morgan, who recognized that it was Diphtheria. Emily “was born to a homesteading family in El Dorado, Kansas, in 1878. She graduated from nursing school in St. Joseph, Mo., worked in missions in India and as an army nurse during World War I. In 1923, the Red Cross sent her to the ultimate hardship post: Nome.
“When children began dying, fevered and struggling for breath, it was Emily Morgan who first realized how dangerous the situation was,” LaFond says: “Dr. Welch didn’t figure it out. He thought it was tonsillitis. But Emily had had diphtheria herself, years before, and she’s the one who first recognized the symptoms.” (Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2011/03/14/1755390/emilys-mission-dispensing-the.html#storylink=cpy)
Then the nurses walked out in miserable winter conditions to villages, house visits and administered the vaccines to all the people.
Today the race is done by teams from Anchorage for the whole length of the trail–which is amazing! A few of the racers are bringing in vaccines that will be brought to the hospital to raise awareness for preventive care. The winner is projected to arrive sometime tonight–probably just after midnight! The town all goes down to celebrate and cheer them on.
And then there are all sorts of other races on the trail now. There is the Iditabike–which is crazy people who bike across the tundra, rivers and mountains, over a thousand miles. This years’ winner did it in just over 10 days! He and his wife (who won the 350 mile race outside of Anchorage) stayed with me afterwards and I was in sheer awe of their accomplishments!