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Balto: The Great Race of Mercy

DATE 2 / 21 / 2019

The cold days of February, remind us of the beautiful story of a heroic dog named Balto. Born in Alaska in 1919, this Siberian Husky sled dog captured the hearts of our nation after his epic 1925 Serum Run which took place in February 94 years ago.

In 1925, the town of Nome, Alaska was threatened with a potentially deadly Diphtheria infection. Thankfully, a serum existed that could prevent the spread of this disease, but it was located 1,000 miles away in Anchorage, Alaska (Klein, 2014). With the potential of an epidemic looming, and without aircraft capable of making the flight to deliver the serum, the people of Nome decided it would have to be transported using multiple mushers and sled teams running in relay down the cold and perilous Iditarod Trail between the two towns. 

The Journey

While the teams assembled in their positions, the serum was quickly transported from Anchorage to Nenana by train. From there 20 mushers took turns carrying the precious cargo through the winter darkness in blizzard conditions with winds screaming up to 80 miles per hour and temperatures that dropped as low as -85º F (The 1925 Serum Run to Nome). In the end, these heroic teams shortened the journey from Nome to Nenana which normally required a month to complete to just five days (Akc, 2016). Four dogs would give everything they had, including their own lives. Leonhard Seppala and his dog Togo, one of the most well-known racing duos at the time, covered some of the most dangerous terrain. However, Balto (6 years old at the time) and his musher, Gunnar Kaasen, were the ones to finish the trek and bring the serum into Nome. Balto completed his journey through white-out conditions and was able to stay on course throughout. Balto’s team were to hand off the package to another team that was supposed to complete the journey, but they carried on as the other team slept.

A Symbol of Heroism

After the Great Race of Mercy, Balto became the symbol of hope, courage, and teamwork for not only the town of Nome, but for the U.S. Balto’s statue was erected in New York’s Central Park 10 months after the race. It remains there to this day delighting children and adults alike. If the cold and snow traps you and your kids inside this month, be sure to watch the 1995 motion picture, Balto to enjoy Universal Studios wonderful take on this story.

Works Cited

Akc. (2016, August 12). The Real Story of Amblin’s Balto – American Kennel Club. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/balto/

The 1925 Serum Run to Nome. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2019, from http://www.alaskaweb.org/disease/1925serumrun.htm

Klein, C. (2014, March 10). The Sled Dog Relay That Inspired the Iditarod. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/the-sled-dog-relay-that-inspired-the-iditarod

Balto- The Alaskan dog became a legend for his bravery after a life-or-death race to rescue the children of Nome. (2016, October 09). Retrieved from https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/10/10/alaskan-dog-balto-became-legend-bravery-life-death-race-rescue-children-nome-2/