|Martin Buser and Me at the Mandatory Musher Meeting|
Iditarod Fan Journey – Day 4 & 5
Martin Buser, elite four time Iditarod champion smiles with his eyes as he extends a firm handshake greeting me before the Mandatory Musher Meeting. I look around, and spot mushers I’ve read about and studied – Aliy Zirkle, Alan Moore, DeeDee Jonrowe, Jeff King, John Baker, Dallas and Mitch Seavey. I’m standing in a room of giants, in my estimation, whose sheer grit, determination and skill can’t help but inspire. My experience will involve riding in Buser’s sled for the ceremonial start on Saturday: he’s “my musher”, and I’m his “Iditarider”. As this day unfolds, I’ll have a pizza lunch with him, and sit at his table for the Musher’s Banquet in the evening. These next few days I’m breathing in rarefied air.
Buser strikes me as a forward thinker – innovative, professional and looking to give back to the sport by investing in the future. He takes the young bucks with big dreams of sled dog racing, and in exchange for their labor as apprentices (“handlers”), he mentors them over the course of two years with the goal of having them run the Iditarod with his “B” team. This model makes sense and is practiced by the larger kennels. There are no degrees in dog mushing, nor college classes in sled dog racing to my knowledge. This is the old fashion apprentice system which births the next generation of mushers efficiently and effectively. Ohio Buckeye and Iditarod racer, Matt Failor, graduated from Martin’s mentorship program working over several years as one of Buser’s handlers. Failor now runs his own Kennel, 17th Dog, and currently trains his two apprentices, one of whom is running the “B” team to Nome.
At the Musher’s Banquet, I got to converse with Pat, a long-time faithful friend of Buser’s as well as some of his staff. It’s clear that they’re devoted to him. At the end of the Musher Banquet, Char, one of staff members, gave me a hug and whispered, “You’re going to have a wonderful ride, Martin is the best”. I suspect she’s a good judge.