Race Against Time: The Courageous Dogs and Men Who Saved Nome


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In the winter of 1925, a small Alaskan town called Nome was facing an unthinkable crisis. Children were falling ill with a deadly disease called diphtheria, and their lives hung in the balance. With no access to modern transportation, desperation filled the air as the town’s doctor, Curtis Welch, realized the gravity of the situation.

Nome was a small, isolated community more than 1,000 kilometres from the nearest train station. Photo from 1916.

Diphtheria, also known as the Strangler or the Strangling Angel, was a bacterial infection that attacked the throat, suffocating its victims. It was particularly merciless towards children, with a mortality rate of up to 20 percent. By mid-January, more than 20 cases had been confirmed, and even with quarantine measures in place, the disease continued to spread.

Dr. Welch knew that the only hope for Nome lay in an antitoxin made from horse blood. But there was a problem – the town was isolated, cut off from the outside world by icy terrain and treacherous weather conditions. Ships could not reach them, and planes could not fly in such extreme cold.

The solution seemed impossible – until a stroke of luck brought 300,000 units of the much-needed antitoxin to Anchorage. However, Nome was still a thousand kilometers away, a distance that seemed insurmountable.

And then it happened. A call went out for a team of brave individuals who could brave the fierce winter conditions to transport the antitoxin. Twenty mushers, most of them Indigenous, and their 160 dogs were assembled for a relay race against time. Each team would cover a section of the route before passing the serum to the next team.

Champion musher Leonhard Seppala poses with six of his sled dogs in 1924 or 1925. Seppala’s lead dog Togo is on the far left, and Fritz, who led another sled team during the serum run, is on the far right.

With the clock ticking, the mushers embarked on what would be known as “the Great Race of Mercy.” The Alaskan wilderness was unforgiving, with temperatures plunging to -65 degrees Celsius and gale-force winds whipping up blinding snowstorms. Their faces blackened by frostbite, their bodies numb from the cold, these courageous men fought against nature’s wrath.

Among the heroes of the relay, Leonhard Seppala and his remarkable sled dog team stood out. They faced the most treacherous part of the journey, a shortcut over Norton Sound, where ice could collapse at any moment. Seppala knew he could trust one dog with his life and the lives of the Nome children – Togo.

Nome’s children were at the highest risk during the diphtheria outbreak, since the disease has a fatality rate of up to 20 per cent in children under five.
Nome’s children were at the highest risk during the diphtheria outbreak, since the disease has a fatality rate of up to 20 per cent in children under five.

Togo, a 12-year-old Siberian sled dog, may have been small and advanced in years, but his spirit was indomitable. Together, Seppala and Togo had faced adversity before. On a previous expedition, Togo had saved the entire team from certain death, pulling them to safety on an ice floe. Now, he had one more monumental task – guiding their sled through the darkness and treacherous ice.

With Togo leading the way, the team raced through the night, relying on the dog’s unparalleled instincts. The snow was blinding, the night was black, but Togo’s determination never wavered. He maneuvered around treacherous ice floes, directing the team flawlessly. Just as they reached the next roadhouse, the ice cracked and collapsed, sealing their chapter of the relay.

Defying all odds, the serum reached Nome in just 5.5 days, shattering previous records and saving countless lives. The epidemic was stopped in its tracks, thanks to the unwavering dedication of these brave mushers and their extraordinary dogs.

As we reflect on this astonishing tale, let us remember the power of unity, bravery, and the unwavering determination to conquer even the most insurmountable obstacles. It is a testament to the indomitable human spirit and a reminder that in the darkest of times, hope can prevail.

12 thoughts on “Race Against Time: The Courageous Dogs and Men Who Saved Nome”

  1. Love heros and history like this. Our children need to know about the heroes of our part so they will have heros to learn from.

  2. The indomitable spirit of Togo the dog team and the indigenous people saved the children, I hope they are remembered and celebrated in this town .

  3. Love these stories of humanity having an indomitable spirit and and ability to conduct unlimited accomplishments

  4. That’s why they do the Iditarod race every year. To retrace this remarkable trek these amazing dogs do. They are beyond amazing. They saved a village and won’t ever be forgotten.

  5. “A true friend for the ages resides in trust, love and unconditional dedication who would stand between you and danger without thought of its own peril. I have found all these in a friend: my dog.”

  6. I have border collies which are extremely intelligent and devoted dogs. So although this story is miraculous it is very believable. Dogs are remarkable creatures whose devotion loyalty and love is remarkable and inspirational to everyone. Their love devotion and loyalty is beyond compare. For me they are a gift from God.

  7. There is no better a friend than a dog ! They truly are a gift from God. They are loyal and brave and I could never live without them.
    A truly remarkable story about such a wonderful friend!


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