Mary Helwig made it to Nome and earned her place in history as she was awarded the Red Lantern under the burled arch. I had some frozen tears streaming down my face as Mary was celebrated by the citizens of Nome, mushers, and volunteers who lined the street to see her and help bring Iditarod 44 to a close. It was an awesome experience for all of us!
I met Mary last June when I officially took over my duties as the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, and I was struck by her humility and friendliness. I remember it was halfway through our conversation when she smiled and casually mentioned that she had lost her home in the Sockeye Fire and all her belongings with it. I was amazed at her positive attitude, which certainly served her well along the trail these last couple of weeks.
Mary was kind enough to work with me this year on a lesson about naming a musher’s kennel. She shared a video with us about her kennel, Bravo Kennel, and how it got its name. Children had a lesson with it and really got to know a little about her. I am sure she had many cheering fans in classrooms all over the world last night. Check out the lesson below:
There were many mushers celebrating with her as she came in, checked her gear, and then put out the famous Widow’s Lamp. That is a special tradition going back to mushing days when a lamp was kept lit at Alaskan roadhouses to let everyone know a musher was still out on the trail.
Name the mushers! There were many famous faces under the arch with me and Mary and her friends and family. We laughed and many of us cried a bit as we said good-bye to Iditarod 2016.
I found some sleepy pups waiting for the dog lot as we mingled and visited with each other. One in particular stole my heart!
Mary still had to perform the same duties as any musher: check her mandatory sled gear, turn in her trail mail, and sign off at the checkpoint. Then it was official!
With some frozen fingers and some tears, we decided it was time to wrap up the evening… with some Nome ice cream, of course!