Some dogs are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them, but few have a pedigree like Bark, part of the team that has won dog racing’s greatest prize.
Six years ago Thomas Waerner, a British-born musher who competes for Norway, lent some of his dogs to his compatriot Robert Sorlie to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, one of the toughest sporting challenges. One of those dogs, a female named Kelly, received some attention from one of her running mates and, a few months later, Waerner gained a dog that was born to run.
This week that dog helped Waerner, 47, to cross the finishing line of the Iditarod in first place, more than five and a half hours ahead of his nearest challenger. He had driven his ten-dog team over mountain ranges, along the frozen Yukon river and across the Bering Sea ice to complete the 975-mile trek in nine days, ten hours, 37 minutes and 47 seconds.
Few have a pedigree like Bark.
His two lead dogs for most of the race were K2, blessed with “an engine that never stops,” and Bark, who “just charges through everything. It doesn’t matter what comes, he will just go through it, storms or whatever.”
Bark was conceived during the 2014 race when Kelly went into heat and one of her running mates took an interest. “Robert was taking his 8-hour [compulsory rest] but he took eight hours and 30 minutes, because they had a little fun,” Waerner said.
A Race Steeped in History
The Iditarod was founded in 1973 and recalls the spirit of a 1925 mission to relieve a potentially catastrophic diphtheria outbreak more than 500 miles from Anchorage, the state’s largest city, in the depths of winter.
The only way to get serum to the remote gold-mining town of Nome was by dog sled. A relay team of mushers, who drive the sleds, and their dogs braved savage winds and temperatures that rarely rose above minus 40C to reach the town in six days and became heroes around the world.
Waerner drove his ten-dog team along the frozen Yukon river and across the Bering Sea ice.
In recent years the race has been tainted by a dog-doping scandal, protests from animal rights activists and the effects of global warming on the course. This year it also had to contend with the loss of two key sponsors and the Covid-19 pandemic, which led organisers and the authorities in Nome to close public buildings and scrap much of the post-race celebrations.
That did nothing to dampen Waerner’s elation at his victory. As he and his dogs neared the end on Wednesday night, supporters poured out of bars and hotels to cheer them on, ignoring social distancing recommendations at one of the few major international sporting events not cancelled because of coronavirus.
“This is awesome,” Waerner said after finishing. Then he looked ahead to a new challenge: getting back to Norway. “There will be some problems getting home.”