CBN.com They call it the world’s last great race – the Iditarod. It is ten days of almost no sleep, pounding along rugged mountain trails, chasing 16 sled dogs over frozen tundra. It’s crossing slushy creek beds and struggling through blizzards where the wind chill can drop to 100 ° below freezing. And in the midst of it, one dog musher finds a peace that she gets nowhere else.
"That has been my revival time, the time when I’ve most enjoyed being able to be one-on-one with God, and that’s when I have the least interferences in my life and the least distractions taking me away from what it is that God is saying to me, what He has created," Dee Dee Jonrowe says. "I have a better chance to appreciate Him and an environment to talk to Him when I’m out on the dogs."
Anyone who follows the sport of dog-sledding knows the name Dee Dee Jonrowe. Her celebrity comes from having competed in more than 20 Iditarod races – more than any other woman in history. You’ve really made it when your face appears on a Taco Bell collector's cup. This is no ordinary race: the Iditarod covers more than 1,100 miles across Alaska’s frozen interior.
"Once you get out a ways and the team is more manageable, then the dangers are more often terrain, coming down into the Dalzells Gorge, for instance, trying to navigate some of the boulders and trenches and stuff that we have. Another one, of course, is moose on the trail, wild animals, bison over on the Fairwell Burn area," she reports.
With threats like that, I had to know: Does Dee Dee have her own gun?
"I do carry a handgun, and I’ve had to use it in training," she explains. "Fortunately, I haven’t had to use it on the race. But you have to be prepared to take care of your animals."
When it comes to the care of her team, this is one musher who never lets things slide. I recently paid Dee Dee a visit to see how she was preparing for this year’s Iditarod.
"They really enjoy what they are doing, so I think if you think about it in terms of a kid, it would be more like doing some kind of physical fitness, because this is what this is offering these dogs, because they aren’t just stuffed toys. They don’t want to just sit," she says.
Now tell me that’s not an understatement!
"I’ve always felt that our dogs were the best advocates for their own profession," Dee Dee states. "I think that in many cases, people maybe don’t understand. It’s developing dogs to be the very best they were born to be, and to me that’s just really exciting – to read their behaviors, to see all of the intricate things that they were made to do and think, and then to bring all those attributes together and help them to focus it toward a particular objective. Many times when I’ve had a hard day elsewhere, I just want to go out and be in the dog lot. Then I feel better."
Dee Dee has faced her share of hard days. In 1996 she and her husband almost died in a traffic accident. Then in 2002, she faced her greatest challenge yet during a visit to her doctor.
"The first thing he told me was that it was malignant and we had decisions to make," she recalls.
Dee Dee was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I ended up with a double mastectomy," she explains, "and it was in my lymph system. I mean, I was horrified at first, and then I wasn’t. I thought, It’s OK. I’m in good shape. It won’t be a big deal. I’ll just get this chemotherapy and get it over with. I really didn’t have any idea how devastating chemotherapy is. I’ve had back injuries, I’ve had problems in the past, but all those were single events and then you get better. Every time you go to the doctor, it’s to hear how much better you are doing. Cancer is a whole different journey. Every time you go to the doctor, you get sicker.
"Although it’s a miracle what the medical community has been able to do for us," Dee Dee continues, "it’s still a pretty barbaric treatment system. The ravages that it had on me physically and mentally have been huge.
"I had made a decision that life, feeling the way I felt, wasn’t worth living. I was so frustrated because I was really in a bad situation and I couldn’t get myself out of it. I needed help."
Only three weeks after finishing chemotherapy, Dee Dee ran the Iditarod, an 1,150-mile race.
Her reason for not sitting out a year, as she explains, was "because nothing I had done but be with the dogs was any fun. Everything I had done that last year, the last nine months had been miserable. The only thing that brought any pleasure to my mind was my dogs."
Dee Dee has the added bonus of a supportive church.
"My church has really been awesome. That family has been amazing," she says. "They did come around me and they were really good about just checking, just caring. I really didn’t like being out in public. On the other hand, going to church might have been one of the only things I did want to do, because that’s a really safe environment. We really are a hospital for sinners and broken people."
Though the doctors say she isn’t out of the woods yet, Dee Dee has seen God use her illness to touch people’s lives around the world.
"I’m a cancer survivor, not a cancer victim, so I’m not going to really wear my wig anymore," Dee Dee told the ABC television audience. "I want to let my hair grow."
Media exposure like her appearance on ABC is something that Dee Dee welcomes.
"I don’t mind that platform, if you will, because it’s an opportunity to further the gospel, to further healthy lifestyles, to perpetuate something that I feel very strongly about – taking care of the temple we were given," Dee Dee says. "I’m a pretty broken temple. That’s what I’m trying to help kids understand is that just because something isn’t easy for you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. I think one of the things that I have appreciated about Iditarod is that it has given me the confidence to fight the harder battles."
Through the good times and the bad, Dee Dee has learned the importance of believing that everything happens for a reason.
"You know, it’s funny," she says. "I don’t understand the people that don’t see the advantages to having God in their lives today, not just in eternity, because if you have the adventuresome spirit that I was blessed with, where you want to climb the next mountain because it’s higher, and you’d like to dangle from the next rope because the valley’s deeper, and, in my case, I want to take the next dog trip because it’s going to be in a more challenging environment, I’m in over my head a lot of times. It’s only by God’s grace that I’ve been able to face what it is that’s in front of me and take that challenge on."
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