Seventy-two mushers, ages 20 to 63, are racing across the Alaskan wilderness, 1,000 miles in total, to win the prestigious 2017 Iditarod Trail International Sled Dog Race.
For some of this year's mushers, completing the race means more than taking home the title.
Cindy Abbott takes part in the grueling event as an affirmation of life after she was diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease.
Like Abbott, Alan Eischens has a bigger goal than finishing in the top ranks: He races to raise awareness for pediatric diseases. "We do this for kids ... For us, it's about the kids," he told US
Mushers, or dogsled drivers, train year round for this annual competition, now in its 45th year. Humans and dogs alike are pushed to the limits physically and mentally. Agility, perseverance, stamina and mental fortitude (not to mention the ability to sustain frigid temperatures and dangerous weather conditions) are tested daily.
The Iditarod kicks off every March and draws entrants from countries all over the world, including Norway, England, France, Sweden, Hungary and Canada.
Abbott, 58, decided to uproot her life for dog racing. She and her husband, Larry Abbott, moved from Southern California, where they were both college professors, to Wasilla, Alaska, so she could focus on the sport. Cindy Abbott was diagnosed with Wegener's granulomatosis — a rare and incurable disease that causes inflammation of the blood vessels in the nose, sinuses, throat, lungs and kidneys — in 2007. She has become functionally blind in her left eye and takes a cocktail of medications to slow the disease's progression. Her health limitations have not stopped her from accomplishing great things, however. In 2010 she scaled Mount Everest, becoming the 40th American woman to do so.
As Abbott was driving to Anchorage last Friday, less than 24 hours before the race's 11-mile ceremonial start, she told ABC News that she has come a long way since learning how to mush six years ago. This year will be her fourth time competing in the Iditarod. Of the 72 mushers, she is one of 17 women.
"Every race is a challenge," she said. "It's really hard to run the dogs, to control that power. Each race is a personal accomplishment."