Frederick’s midlife calling lands her in Iditarod. Written by Lisa FredericPublished by Alaska Northwest Books, 221 pages, $9-$15 USDFor some, becoming middle-aged means a shiny, new sports car or an ultra-trendy new hairstyle. But for Kodiak’s Lisa Frederic, reaching that point in her life meant something completely different: running the 1,049 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.Frederic documented her journey to Nome, which including learning how to pilot a team of huskies from scratch, in the form of a book called Running with Champions. Now, before you disregard it as another first-person tale of dog mushing trials and tribulations, just know that Frederic’s book is a little different from the rest.Hers is a harrowing story of bruises and gashes as she worked her way up from neophyte handler to seasoned dog driver.Frederic is a commercial fisherwoman in Kodiak, so she’s no stranger to hard work and the subsequent pain in the form of a sore, aching body. But she could not have imagined the physical and mental workout she’d get after committing herself to the world of mushing. After a vacation in Nome with her husband David, during the Iditarod finish in 1997, the lure of mushing called her to do more. Much more. She volunteered for the next two years at a checkpoint during the race, but it still wasn’t enough. So, she left her life in Kodiak temporarily to go and work for four-time champ Jeff King. That’s another interesting element to her chronicle; the reader gets an insider’s look at the day-to-day happenings at King’s Goose Lake Kennel.The reader also gets a rare glimpse into King’s personality and quirks away from the fans and cameras. Frederic works her way up the handler ladder over a few years and eventually, in 2002, finds herself at the start line of “The Last Great Race.”But what sets this book apart is Frederic’s knack for recounting the details. She lets the reader in on all those moments of insecurity she felt while learning how to become an Iditarod musher. There were many disastrous training runs, and Frederic wasn’t ashamed to retell each one. Many fledgling dog mushers can empathize with the hours of wrestling with the sled just to stay upright, dragging behind for what seems like miles, or bouncing off trees like a real-life pinball game.“When I tried to jerk the sled up, I miss a beat and the back-swing tipped the sled over, downhill on the incline,” Frederic wrote, recalling one of many white-knuckled rides. “I did not let go, but I went back to eight dogs, and still hit two trees. The shame and embarrassment ate away at my self-confidence. I felt I could do nothing right anymore”To most people, it would be easy to call it quits, but Frederic’s persistence and gumption makes her an undeniably likeable and inspiring Alaskan character.Frederic’s love for the dogs becomes apparent almost immediately in the book. She picked out the most minute details and characteristics from each dog in King’s brood within her first weeks at the kennel and recorded those details in a journal:“Paris is black as evening velvet, luxurious to touch – a race adult. Pumba is tall and has such wide eyes he always looks surprised. Persian has a polar white coat, course and thick with black specks on the ears.”The last half of the book is all about Frederic running her first Iditarod with a team of King’s yearlings. Without overdoing the mundane descriptions that are all too common in non-fiction books about the race, she still manages to capture just the right details. There is enough so that outsiders can understand, but not so much that it makes you put the book down and flip on the tube.In a nutshell, Frederic sees the race, leaves her life in Kodiak for months at a time to handle and train, and then runs the Iditarod all within five years. It’s actually an amazing feat. And she manages to capture it all in a spirited story of personal triumph and human will.Frederic spends her days now between fishing in Kodiak, giving sled dog tours in Denali National Park, and training dogs for Jeff King.Jillian Rogers is a freelance writer and photographer living in Fairbanks. She covered sled dog races for seven years before venturing into mushing herself and now owns nine huskies.
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