BRULE, Wis. (WFRV) – The sound of dogs barking fills the air. The crisp winter air nips at the racers cheeks as they stand anxiously on the runners of the sled, ten howling dogs jumping excitedly in front of the musher.
Morgan Martens stands calmly, as he waits for the five other mushers to head off down the trail in a staggered start for the 2021 Junior Iditarod. His family friend and mentor, Ryan Redington, is letting him race his Iditarod sled dog team as a tune up before the Last Great Race.
It’s a surreal feeling, being in the Alaskan wilderness, about to participate in a race that’s boasted mushers that have gone on to win the Iditarod. But it’s not a dream that Morgan grew up having in Wisconsin.
“It was kind of sudden. When my sister raced it, I thought she was crazy,” Morgan said with a chuckle, standing in the barn at his house in Wisconsin.
The 14-year-old saw his sister Talia run the race in 2018 and never thought he’d race it on his own. But when the grandson of the founder of the Iditarod asked him to mush with his sled dogs, it was a chance he couldn’t turn down.
The only musher in the field from outside Alaska, he was an underdog for sure. The quiet and composed young man then went on and shocked everyone, including his family, by winning the entire race.
“It was really unexpected at first, because there were some really good teams out there and I didn’t know what I was capable of,” Morgan said. ” I was really inexperienced musher for an 150 mile race.”
His mother still can’t believe it happened.
“I had a hard time controlling my excitement. I was screaming at the finish line. I just couldn’t believe it’s me, it’s my life, it’s their lives, oh wow,” Janet Martens said.
His father Tim knew he could be a good musher. He just didn’t expect him to not only win the race, but lead the entire time. Neither did Morgan, for that matter.
“I ended up passing everyone within eleven miles of the start and I just kept the lead the entire race,” Morgan said with a chuckle.
“I knew he was capable but, you know, he’s fourteen and has shown abilities to easily get distracted. His focus here was probably as great as I’ve ever seen it and he learned so much along the way and beforehand and through this race and about what he’s capable of doing,” Tim Martens said. “That’s kind of what we were hoping it would give him.”
Pride is another thing that’s earned on the trail. It’s a trait his family is now bursting with.
“Watching him on the tracker, and see how far he was and watching the second place person coming up behind him, we were like, oh my gosh, we were freaking out,” his older sister Talia said with a smile. “It was very exciting to see him come into the finish line first.”
For Morgan, it’s a sport that’s been a part of his family’s life well before he was born. 25 years in the making.