Cool Runnings: Jamaican Seeks Iditarod Glory

Jamaica and Iditarod are not two things you normally hear together. But Newton Marshall of the Jamaican dogsled team aims to change that. This week, Marshall starts training with three-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey. Mackey says people initially didn't think Marshall had a chance, but he proved everyone wrong.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In the early �90s, Disney won big at the box office with the film �Cool Runnings,� the story of the first Olympic Jamaican bobsled team. Well, another Jamaican winter-sport story has been set into motion. Yesterday, a Jamaican dog musher named Newton Marshall began training outside Fairbanks, Alaska, for the 1,200 mile Iditarod race, and he's getting some top-flight coaching. His trainer is the three time defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey, who joins us from Fairbanks. Mr. Mackey, explain for us please how a guy from Jamaica ends up on a dogsled team?

Mr. LANCE MACKEY (Iditarod Champion): Yeah. I've asked myself that question many times to tell you the truth. You know, I think it has a lot to do with just, you know, the public awareness of the sport. And like I said, you know, years ago, the bobsled team was kind of - it was a hit. It was kind of a joke when it first came to the public's eye. And this is kind of the same way. Newton, when he's, you know, when he was brought on to the sport, a lot of people thought it was just a publicity stunt and he wouldn't be around, you know, very long. Coming from Jamaica, of course, there's no snow and the weather here in Alaska or Canada is pretty extreme. So, most people didn't think he had a chance. But he proved everybody wrong and he's back now. He's finished the toughest race in the world, the Yukon Quest. And now he wants to attempt the Iditarod.

BLOCK: Well, when Newton Marshall is racing in Jamaica, how exactly is he doing that?

Mr. MACKEY: Well, they don't race over in Jamaica, actually. But he does have a dogsled tour business that he manages and operates. Basically all it is to say is a buggy, you know, with a steering wheel and tires on it. And they've gathered up all the dogs around the streets and then the Humane Society and what have you - and put this team together and they give rides to the tourists that show up in Jamaica.

BLOCK: Well, how would you describe Newton Marshall, this Jamaican, as a sled-dog racer? How does he do?

Mr. MACKEY: Well, he does great. Like I said, he's already accomplished the Yukon Quest. He's just a bubbly kind of kid that, you know, everything you say to him, his answer is, yeah man. And, you know, that's exciting. He's here to learn and he knows this is maybe an opportunity that no other Jamaican will ever have.

BLOCK: Mr. Mackey, you are the son of a legendary sled-dog racer. One of the founders of the Iditarod was your dad. Do you think he would look at this and say, oh, Lance, this is just - this is such a gimmick? What are you doing here?

Mr. MACKEY: Well, yeah, there is certainly people - I'm not saying my dad's one of them - but there are people that are saying exactly that. And yes, to a point it's true. We are trying to get as much recognition for this sport as possible. The day he showed up there was, you know, newspapers, TVs, radio stations, everybody wants a part of this. And absolutely it's going worldwide. We are getting some publicity over it and that's, in my opinion, what it's all about.

BLOCK: Now, you're going to be racing against Newton Marshall among others in the Iditarod coming up, right?

Mr. MACKEY: Yes.

BLOCK: How do you think he will do?

Mr. MACKEY: I have no doubt he's going to do just fine. My obligation is to get him to the starting line of the Iditarod. It's up to him. If he wants to take a leisurely trip to Nome, so be it. I'm not going to be disappointed with that.

BLOCK: Huh.

Mr. MACKEY: If he wants to be aggressive and race, he's going to have a team that I'm going to have a hard time outrunning.

BLOCK: Well, Lance Mackey, we wish both you and Newton Marshall the best of luck in the Iditarod coming up.

Mr. MACKEY: Thank you very much. Looking forward to it.

BLOCK: That's the three-time defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey in Fairbanks, Alaska. He's training the Jamaican, Newton Marshall, for the Iditarod, which starts the first weekend in March.

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