Featured in the Sept/Oct 2007 Issue of Mushing Magazine:In 2001, I turned my life around. Prior to then I was a Franklin planner person. If I said “No, I can’t go,” that was final. Now, that I try my best to live God’s will, my yes is sometimes a no, and my no may eventually be a yes. So when Dr. Phil Meyer called me in March to ask me to be race vet for the Kobuk 440, my immediate response was no. However, it only took 12 hours for that little voice in my head to change it to a yes. This would be my 4th 440.I’ve raced 2 and I’ve been a the race vet for 2 races.Once a year, my priest uses a story about monkeys in his homily. The Africans trap monkeys by cutting a hand sized hole in a gourd, tying it to a tree, and putting peanuts in it. The greedy little monkeys can’t get their hands out with peanuts, and, rather than leave the peanuts in the gourd, they allow themselves to be captured. Interpret that story anyway you like in light of your life, but the best things in life come as a result of letting go.So, when I let go of my previous promise to never serve as a race vet again, things started changing. Race vets typically don’t get paid, they lose income by not practicing, and they have to answer to the media about dead dogs and injuries. To me, it made sense at the time to not ever put myself in that position again. I would much rather race dogs than vet dog races. Same thing about veterinary medicine. Our patients pee on us, scratch, bite and kick. And the job doesn’t pay well. Things often don’t make sense until you see them in God’s light. Creatures are bridges between people. As I told a client this week, animals are the glue that holds society together. They are all the time bringing very different people together in a common cause.Growing up involves moving on. As my children are growing, I don’t have time to train up a hardcore racing team, so my last several efforts have been marginal at best. I still haul a little wood with my dogs, but I can’t rearrange my priorities without failing as a father. I remember when I scratched out in Kaskag, 2 years ago, out at the Kusko. I was whining about getting out of dogs and my family said, “You’re just a young man.” So you listen to your friends and move on. In this race, I saw a 70 year old man and a 68 year old man finish in the type 5, running strong and smiling at the finish.So I pledged to take a whole year off and stay home, save money and get to know my family. I made it all the way through to March according to my plan. Then Dr. Meyer called. I had 2 classes of Sunday school kids I had prepared to come into the Church on Easter Sunday and I didn’t think I could be in Kotzebue over Easter without failing my classes. Sometime during the night it occurred to me I wasn’t the one getting baptized and confirmed, those people would come into the Church just fine without me. In the morning Liz, my wife, said “Go,” so I changed my “no.”Let me give you an idea of the doors that will open up for you if you consider using your gifts and talents to do God’s will instead of your own. Guys like me, typically spend $20-40,000 a year operating our little kennels and flying to a single race like Bethel or Kotzebue; The Quest or the Iditarod are easily $50,000 events. This year, I saved 10 grand, didn’t scratch, and I got a free trip to Kotzebue. I also got an all expenses paid trip around the 440 trail on a snowmachine.The 440 is a pretty typical Alaskan sled dog race. Being the winner (or even a racer) is only a small part of the big picture. I’d only ever seen a narrow view of Alaskan sled dog races. Volunteering in this specific race I got to make friends in Kotzebue, Ambler, Selawik and Noorvik. Kobuk and Shungnak are also on the loop out of Ambler. All of these villages open up the community center and put on a big potlatch style meal for the race. All my snowmachining friends in Fairbanks would pay big bucks to snowmachine the Kobuk valley in April. As a veterinarian in Alaska, I often pay thousands of dollars to travel out to take continuing education courses. Being in Kotzebue after the 440, I got to watch the leading veterinary researchers scope and biopsy sled dogs. Instead of having to lean over 40 other vets, I was right up front. Once again, just for saying yes.I feel privileged to have been a part of such a huge cultural event. Willie and Jenny Johnson put up Lance Mackey, The Swenson’s, and me all at the same time. I got to visit with the new champion of champions and the only 5 time Iditarod champion. In addition to hotel accommodations, we had the pleasure of Willie’s fine Finnish humor. Over the years I’ve seen their kids have kids, and seen their girls grow into leadership roles in the community. This community is undergoing incredible change financially and socially. Traveling the course by snowmachine with Charlie, Boyuk, Wilford and Darren was also a real treat. However, what was really reassuring was listening to them talk business. They have the skill to run their corporation and protect their heritage in the young of their community. One of the things I noticed my second trip to Kotzebue was how the Gospel holds the culture together. Despite tragedy and the typical trouble all cultures have raising children, a group of elders in every village would be hanging out. They would generally share scripture or listen to Gospel radio, and kept things moving at a steady pace.This was a mercy mission. Dr. Meyer had to go out to be with his family, so I’d like to think I helped the racing community and Dr. Meyer. I’ve found in my life that mercy works like a pop machine. You put some in and some more comes back to you. Once again, it was only after my conversion that I started to look at the world as a big interconnected community. I understand now that these dogs are bridges between cultures and people. I’m hoping someday I’ll get the call to go to Poland, Russia, or one of the other far corners of the world to share my gift of veterinary medicine and surgery with friends I still haven’t met.I’ve saved the best story for last. Willie got his Indy 550 back from Dean for me for the race. Dean said he fixed the headlight. NOT!!! Some electrical short kept popping bulbs, so I was in the dark. Literally. I managed to travel to checkpoints ahead of the race during daylight, until the last run (Noorvik to Kotzebue). Wilford had me travel out in front on the side in his light (at 45 MPH) when we got out onto wide trail on the way into Kotzebue. Being an Episcopol minister, he knows something about faith. He had to coach me several times to trust that he wouldn’t run into me. All around the course Boyuk would tease me about leaving me in the dark, but the trail breaking crew never let me down. They took care of me like a handicapped child. I got back in time to catch the first several finishers, clean up and go to Easter Sunday Mass at St. Francis Xavier. I didn’t know anyone there except Winnie and Lucy, but I was put to work in the kitchen mixing pancake batter like a cook’s helper. We had a jumpin’ Mass (kids jumping off their pews) and then had breakfast in the social hall.To end the mission to Kotzebue, after the race was over, we went out on Kobuk lake hooking sheefish through the ice. Once again, straight from scripture, “fishing for men.” Finally, I have a commitment to live in the moment, because that’s all we have. But I have confidence I’ll live forever. Between now and then, I will always strive to say yes to God, and maybe he’ll lead me to Spain, Italy, Poland, Argentina, etc, before he calls me home.Dr. Mark May owns and runs Golden Heart Veterinary clinic in Fairbanks, Alaska. Dr. May has finished the Yukon Quest 4 times, his highest place was 2nd in 1999. Dr. May lives in Two Rivers with his wife and 2 daughters.


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