Iditarod 2011: Zoya DeNure and Miller

In covering the Iditarod there is a constant stream of analysis by arm-chair quarterbacks and veterans alike. There are so many blogs, tweets and Facebook posts that boggle the mind. There is news, public interest pieces and tons of videos on YouTube.

And then there are stories.

The Iditarod trail is a brutal place. Some call may call it the last bastion of athletic competition. Dreams are strewn from one end of the trail to the other as the Iditarod sweeps them up and tosses them aside.

For others, if not most, it is a life changing experience that even the burly veterans say makes them more humble every year.

Then there is Zoya DeNure and her dog Miller.

On Wednesday DeNure was reunited with her beloved eight year old male that she feared was dead. Miller collapsed in harness on the trail on Monday for reasons that are still not known.

DeNure rushed to the the dog and frantically checked for a pulse and could not find one. She performed mouth to snout resuscitation on Miller and she thought he had passed away. She loaded him up in the sled basket and headed back to Rainy Pass.

According to a report in the Anchorage Daily News, DeNure said,” My whole body was trembling. I felt like I was the worst person in the world. I hated myself because I put him on the trail.”

The team flew down the trail back to Rainy Pass with their teammate in the sled bag. Maybe somehow they knew that their friend hung in the delicate balance between life and death. We will never know.

Near Rainy Pass, Miller opened up his eyes and looked at Zoya.

Upon arriving at the checkpoint, DeNure rushed the the care of the trail veterinarians and they put an IV in him and covered him up.

As the hours ticked by Miller was still weak and unable to walk. DeNure, who runs a rescue with her husband, John Schandelmeier, a former Yukon Quest Champion, for unwanted sled dogs in their hometown of Gakona, knew she had a decision to make.

The Iditarod rules state that she can drop Miller from her team and continue on down the trail or she could scratch. To DeNure, and every other musher, the dogs are her life. That is reason we do this crazy sport. It is not for the fame and it surely is not for the money. It is for the dogs.

DeNure asked the vet staff if Miller was going to make it and they said they didn’t know. She decided to stay with her dog.

Zoya scratched.

On Tuesday, Miller was flown to Big Lake and her husband picked him. When DeNure was reunited with her dog he was his “normal self” and the veterinarians gave him a clean bill of health.

At Rainy Pass the the musher had a long time to think. Finishing 53rd in her 2008 rookie run and scratching in 2009, she just realized something on the trail. That mid-distance races are what she is going to focus on for now.

Those races are still no walk in the park. The Copper Basin is a 300 mile race that is a qualifier for the Iditarod and most will say it gives a dog driver the best example of what they will see on the Iditarod trail. Others like the Tustumena 200 and a bevy of races around Alaska will give DeNure the chance to continue to do what she loves, which is run dogs.

But for now, DeNure says she is in no hurry to return to the Iditarod.

Robert Forto | Team Ineka | Alaska Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Dog Works Radio | Denver Dog Works | Daily Post


Robert Forto is a musher training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner and the host of the popular radio shows, Mush! You Huskies and Dog Works Radio Shows

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