The mystique of Alaska’s annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race is worldwide, but one deep-south Outside venue celebrates it year-round in a particularly public manner.
In the Atlanta, Georgia suburb of Kennesaw, a large community park celebrates dog mushing, the intrepid souls who race in the Iditarod, greatest race on earth, and one of their own residents who ran and finished it in 2002, Bill Borden. In fact, Borden is the first person from Georgia to finish the Iditarod.
“We had to learn everything from scratch before thinking about running the Iditarod,” explained Borden in a strip mall restaurant near the park. “The community of mushers and supporters is inviting to participants, but nobody can tell you everything you need to know to do it.”
This Kennesaw Iditarod dog park and interpretive walk are named after Borden’s lead dog, Fisher King. With Borden’s direction, his sled crossed under the burled arch in Nome after 1,151 miles of wilderness trail. Longtime landowners, the Swift-Cantrell family, would later contribute the land for this popular park. Each of seven education signs around the walkway features a vocabulary word at the top, with a themed content discussion of some aspect of character required by the Iditarod race.
Ultimately Borden finished 53rd on his rookie attempt.
Fewer than 50 percent of Iditarod racers finish the race on their first attempt: “I could have finished a little higher, but it was more of the experience. I spent the last night in a safety cabin with a musher who had completed the first Iditarod; he was very cold and frozen, so we built a fire, and I chose to stay and listen to wonderful stories by a Native Alaskan.” Instead of finishing in the dark, Borden was able to reach Nome by daylight so his wife could take memorable photos.
An Atlanta Realtor team, Borden and his wife Brenda, self-financed this venture through their company, High Caliber Realty, and turned other money contributed to their effort into Cool Dreams Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation. The signs in this park are part of their educational outreach which interfaces with Iditarod lesson plans. In addition, Borden talks and shares his Iditarod experiences.
The trail markers are clear in their messages: “Bill and Brenda Borden first met Fisher King when he was the star of a sled dog kennel tour. Little did either know that in only a few years, the quintessential sled dog they met that day would lead Bill’s team to the finish line,” states one.
“You can see this sign is about guidance because it has the map,” Borden explained.
Another sign described the courage necessary for the Iditarod, and another talked about accomplishment: “Upon Fisher King’s retirement from racing his last Iditarod, he and his teammates continued to promote education and awareness of this northern sport in local schools and senior centers, spreading the word that through proper planning, perseverance, and faith in God anything is possible.”
“This is my favorite,” shared Borden as we approached another marker.
“Perseverance—When Fisher King led Kennesaw’s Bill Borden on their Cool Dreams running of The Last Great Race, the run was a culmination of three years of research, training, and preparation that became a test of faith full of excitement and danger. Breaking his gangline just over 200 miles into the race on the Happy River Steps was just one of many tests of Bill’s conviction during the 1,151 mile Iditarod.
After the accident on the steps, Bill was left alone in the remote Alaska wilderness with a broken rib, fractured kneecap, and only two dogs. Calling on his faith and determination, Bill did the only thing available to him; he said a prayer with each step he took, putting one foot in front of the other, making forward progress no matter how small the progress was it was still forward progress. To not have tried, to not have persevered, would have been giving up, and giving up would have been failure.
Bill excruciatingly traveled 12 miles of the trail with just his two wheel-dogs, Lookout and Stroke, to retrieve Fisher King and the rest of the team who had continued down the trail under Fisher’s leadership. It was an adventure full of events worthy of book, television and newspaper coverage, such as a broken sled not once but three times as well as Bill’s own broken bones, open water overflow, temperature extremes to 60 below zero and a coastal snowstorm.
Kennesaw’s Bill Borden persevered to finish the longest sled dog race in the world in just 14 days, 4 hours, 10 minutes and 14 seconds with 13 happy dogs. Bill attributes his success to his faith in God, a very supportive wife, Brenda, a helpful son, Jordan and his resolve to always finish what he starts. We in Alaska may take the Last Great Race for granted, but far away, in the lower 48, hundreds of thousands of school children learn life’s lessons taught from racing on the Iditarod Trail.”
We in Alaska may take the Last Great Race for granted, but far away, in the lower 48, hundreds of thousands of school children learn life’s lessons taught from racing on the Iditarod Trail.
I am an Independent Journalist and retired teacher. I have resided over 60 consecutive winters socially, academically and politically as an active Alaska participant. I write on the wondrous people, scoundrals and events I have witnessed since statehood in 1959. The theme is: How did we get here and where we are going as a state? I invite your respectful participation in the discussion.