Photo Credit: Bill Roth, Getty Images.
Newton Marshall; The Only Black Dog Musher To Finish Alaska's Iditarod
Born in Jamaica in the 1980s, Newton Marshall is the only Black musher to finish Alaska’s Iditarod. Iditarod, ‘The Last Great Race’, is not a well-known race. But, it is the one of the toughest races in the world.
The Iditarod race is a 1,000 mile long dog sledding race that began in 1973. Mushers and spectators come from all over the world to participate in this annual tradition. It is one of the biggest winter event in Alaska. It is just around the corner, too. March 5, 2022 will mark the 49th year. (More info on travel to the race.)
Marshall trained for years to be part of this decade long, Alaskan winter tradition. Without ever having even been in the frigid temperatures, it was hard to imagine this 22 year old would be able to survive for 10 days in the cold of the Alaskan interior.
Iditarod begins in Anchorage. It ends in Nome, a town only accessed by plane. Or, dog sled. How did this Jamaican born man end up entering Iditarod and dog sledding in the winters of Alaska and Canada?
Marshall began working for a tour company in his home country of Jamaica. The owner saw something in him and requested him to take care of a few of their dogs. When asked to become part of the Jamaican dogsled team, he was enticed by the thought of dog sledding. As he told Xavier Murphy, from Best of Jamaica, it was, “a traveling opportunity. I was getting an opportunity to go places that I didn’t know that I would be going.”
And travel he did! He started his training in Minnesota where he experienced cold weather for the first time. Just stepping out into the frosty air was like nothing he’d ever felt. He eventually became acclimated to the colder weather. Then, moved on to Canada for long distance training and bonding time with his dogs.
Long distance training looked like snowy trail rides with his dogs, sometimes 100 miles long. All done in the ice and snow, with temperatures as low as -20F. After an extensive year of training, Marshall was ready to enter his first dog sledding race.
He traveled to Alaska to compete in the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race in 2008. This 200 mile race went from Dawson City to Eagle and back. Then, Marshall came back the next year to compete in Alaska’s Copper Basin. Crossing the finish line meant he qualified for the Yukon Quest, his first 1,000 mile race.
Marshall completed the Yukon Quest in 2009 and was at the starting gates of the Iditarod the next year. He has competed in 4 Iditarod races. His last race was in 2014 where he came to the rescue of a fellow competitor who had broken their ankle and couldn’t get back to their sled.
Competing in the Iditarod doesn’t always mean finishing. But, Marshall did. He completed the Iditarod, not once, but twice! 1,000 miles of snow-covered trails with icy conditions, no rest and dangers around every bend. Newton Marshall, the first Black musher to complete the Iditarod. And the first Black man to complete it twice.
He has since gone back home to Jamaica, but his Instagram suggests he may be back in Alaska this Spring. Maybe he will be training for the 2023 Iditarod, and will become the first Black musher to win!