I had the opportunity to meet 19 year old musher Laura Neese last winter at Nature’s Kennel in Michigan where, under the direction & mentorship of Iditarod veteran Ed Steilstra, Laura has been training. What struck me was how she lit up as the initial chit chat turned to a discussion about long distance racing and the dogs she was training with. Glowing with the excitement and anticipation at the thought of entering the Quest she was, at that time, preparing for some mid distance races in the lower 48.
Since that initial meeting I have followed her races & training so meeting up with her at the Quest was a treat. She had drawn number ONE at the Musher banquet making her the first Musher out of the chute to start the 2016 Yukon Quest… a big weight for a rookie but she handled it with great composure and her calm, peaceful and positive attitude was infectious. As she prepared before the start we had a few moments to speak. She would be leaving that day with Forest and Butter in lead and she was looking forward to the journey ahead and spending time with her dogs out on the trail.
Watching as this 19 year old from Ohio approached starting line the fans lining the chute were vying for a spot along the fence get a dog’s eye view. I overheard several commenting on her age, her courage, and their excitement for her journey ahead. She walked along her team having a few moments with her handlers, which included her mother, and her dogs before stepping on the runners of her sled.
The 2 minute warning and then the countdown resulting in a resounding GO! with fans cheering her on as she crossed the starting line with a glowing smile on her face and waving to the fans along the chute.
Go Laura Go!
As I type this she is making her way from Eagle to Dawson and I cannot wait for the reports from the trail. This is a long, remote run for teams as they make their way to Dawson but I am sure that she is having the time of her life!