There are 1,130 frostbitten miles, mountain ranges, blizzards, hungry beasts, and frozen seas between Anchorage and Nome. This awful trek is the scene of the ultimate endurance test known as the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, where twelve huskies pull a sled and its driver through the most grueling, inhuman conditions one can fathom. One frequent champion was the late Susan Butcher, whose tough-minded fixation on winning earned her the nickname Ayatollah Butcher.
The secret, she would tell you, was her own mind-set and the training of those dogs, which gave new meaning to the word "serious." Her 150-dog kennel was a thing to behold. Shortly after each pup's birth, while it was still blind, she held it in her hands and breathed her breath into its nose. That way, she claimed, each one would associate her smell with comfort and encouragement. The rapport began with that breathing-into-the-nose routine. She personally fed, trained, massaged, and—on a rotation basis—slept with each dog. She personally nursed them to health when they were injured. She was infinitely patient with them, talked to them, believed in them, even sang to them (old folk songs by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, plus a few Irish lullabies). The objective? To bond with them. It paid. They saved her life on the trail more than once. Back in 1979, she led her dog team to the 20,320-foot summit of Mount McKinley. It took forty-four days.
What a woman! One reporter described her as having "a stiff spine . . . a stubborn mind-set," which was what she needed to endure moose attacks, blizzards so severe that one time for five hours she couldn't see the lead dog, and a sudden plunge into icy water (Granite and Maddie, the mushers, pulled her out).
The Christian life isn't an eleven-day race. It's a lifetime journey full of more dangers and pitfalls than a hundred Iditarods. So it's foolish to think we can enter it half-heartedly or sustain it easily. To survive it calls for help from above and toughness from within. If Susan Butcher was willing to give that kind of effort to win a race that is incredible in the eyes of the world, seems to me we should be capable of conquering the marathon from earth to heaven.
A combination of two ingredients is essential: the capacity to accept and the tenacity to endure.
I move that we toughen up. All in favor say, "Mush."
"We could never be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world" (Helen Keller).
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