Iditarod 2022: How Eric Kelly went from Arizona to Iditarod’s starting line with the help of Jamaican friend
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Different mushers get into dog sledding for different reasons. Some, like Ryan Redington, grandson of the “Father of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race” Joe Redington Sr., are born into the sport with mushing in their blood.
Others, like 52-year old Iditarod rookie Eric Kelly, move from Arizona to Alaska and meet a Jamaican musher by the name of Newton Marshall in 2013 as he prepared for the historic, grueling trail.
“Mushing has been a life-changing thing for me, it’s given me something to focus on,” Kelly said at The Daybreak Kennel. “First of all, it was a little hobby to get me through the cold, Alaskan winters and now it’s just grown into a way of life and it has changed my life, it’s given me focus that I didn’t have before and it’s given me something to work for.”
Originally from the Northeast, Kelly traveled extensively before settling in Prescott, Arizona. After vacationing to Alaska in 2007, Kelly was sold on the Last Frontier as he and his wife Laura packed up the family to the 49th State the following year.
Upon arrival, Kelly knew very little about dog mushing when he was hired as a sprinkler fitter with Taylor Fire Protection, where he still works today.
“I met Newton, I helped him get ready for the Iditarod and then I was like, ‘wow, this is a great way to get through the long winters,’” Kelly said.
Though Kelly has less dog sledding experience than most of his mushing counterparts in the Iditarod, his passion for the sport is just as strong.
Since being introduced to the sport less than a decade ago, Kelly has created The Daybreak Kennel, featuring over 30 dogs with racing experience in the Copper Basin 300, the Willow 300 and the Knik 200. Now, he is on to the most daunting task of all: the Iditarod and its 1,049 miles of Alaska terrain beginning in Willow and finishing in Nome.
“We’re a little anxious, but in a good way. Just want to get out on the trail ... I’m actually feeling a little calmer than I thought I would, so that makes me a little nervous,” Kelly said with a laugh.
Eight years after Kelly learned under Marshall as he set off on “The Last Great Race,” the roles have reversed as the two-time Iditarod finisher is now providing guidance to Kelly ahead of his rookie race.
“He helped me out when I was doing my race and I was grateful to have him at the time that he came,” Marshall, of Ocho Rios, Jamaica said at Kelly’s kennel. “He saw me training and you know he took up that passion for wanting to run the dogs, and here he is doing amazing things.”
“Just run like how he trains, just to have a good time, just like how I did it,” Marshall said of the advice he has for Kelly. “... He knows his dogs, he knows best. He understands and has been through several different races and he did pretty good in all of them, and that’s all on him.”
Marshall, not unlike Kelly, had an unusual path to a life of dogs. Working for a tour company in his home country, Marshall became involved in the Jamaica Dogsled Team, which offers dryland dog sled rides, along with the adventure center’s other outdoor experiences.
His love of the sport brought him to more “musher-friendly” climates such as Minnesota and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada where he gained the knowledge to compete with and take care of his own team. He reached the pinnacle of the sport with his rookie run in 2010 while also finishing the historic race in 2014.
No matter how they got here, they are here and are doing it together. Kelly will wear bib No. 14 14 out of the ceremonial starting chute in downtown Anchorage on Saturday with Marshall driving the tag sled.
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