Competing in the Yukon Quest is no small thing.
It takes the right training and a team of dogs that are up to the challenge of a 1,000-mile sled dog race from Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon Territory to Fairbanks. It takes believing in yourself and others who be-lieve in you. It takes a strong commitment to the sport. It also takes inspiration.
And musher Sig Stormo, of Funny River, has it all. His inspiration, however, is borne from tragedy.
Two years ago, his daughter, Jessica, a promising junior musher whose dream was to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, was killed in a car accident on Funny River Road. Now, Stormo's goal is to fulfill his daughter's dream.
Seven years ago, when Jessica was 12 years old, the father and daughter began mushing dogs together.
"Her dream was to run in the Iditarod," Stormo said. "That was why she got the dogs. She wanted to do that race. It was just a big thing for her.
"My thing was to sort of get our relationship back together," he said.
"She was in a lot of trouble in school and her grades were down. And (getting into dogs together) worked. We became best friends."
Jessica moved closer to her Iditarod dream by competing in the Junior Iditarod in 1998. Eight months later, the 16-year-old died. Her father put mushing aside for a while but eventually returned to the sport, thanks to the encouragement of his friend, Clam Gulch musher Tim Osmar.
"Timmy's really a very good person," he said. "He's given me lots of moral support. He got me back into (mushing)."
The perennial Iditarod front-runner, who's joining Stormo on the Quest trail this year , provided some valuable insight into the sport along the way. (See related story, page C-1.)
"I've known Tim Osmar for 25 years," said Stormo of the Clam Gulch musher who placed third in this year's Tustumena 200 and is a 10-time top 10 Iditarod finisher. "Tim's done so much. If I knew just the knowledge that he's forgotten, I'd do pretty good."
Much of what Stormo knows about mushing came from helping Osmar in last year's Iditarod.
"I learned so much," the 39-year-old Stormo said.
"It was very, very educational. If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't know what to do."
According to Yukon Quest rules, rookies must submit written proof of completing an approved race of at least 200 miles. Stormo planned to complete the Copper Basin 300 in January; however, a tight budget made him rethink that decision.
When the Tustumena 200 appeared threatened because of little snow, he decided to enter a 200-mile qualifying event organized by the Iditarod Trail Committee in January.
Stormo proved by completing that 200-mile event that he and his dogs are ready to tackle the Yukon Quest.
"I got lucky and won the thing," the Funny River musher said. "It was rugged. For 10 miles we were going through open water. It was wild. I've never been on a dog run like that. The dogs did super. I started with 12 and I finished with 12."
The team, which will go with him to the Yukon Quest, comes from good sled dog stock.
"Seven of the dogs are from (1984 Iditarod champion) Dean and Tim (Osmar). The rest of the dogs were what me and Jessica raised," Stormo said.
In addition to the Osmars, Stormo credited his girlfriend, Kim Nelson, and her children for their contributions to his cause.
"If it wasn't for (Nelson) doing the paper work, I'd be lost," he said. "And her kids have helped me out a lot."
Despite this winter's unseasonably warm temperatures, which have left their mark on the Quest trail, Stormo said he looks forward to competing.
"The last I heard, they're starting 25 miles away from Whitehorse because there's open water (on the Yukon River)," he said. "It's supposed to be the most rugged it's ever been.
"The ice came and left twice this year," he said. "It's never done that. And the ice is stacked up. Can you imagine running a dog team through that? It'll be the experience of a lifetime."
And it will be an experience in which his daughter is never far from his mind.
In her speech after the 1998 Junior Iditarod, Stormo said, Jessica spoke about the thrill of mushing under a winter sky filled with the northern lights.
"When I did (the 200-mile) race, I saw the northern lights for the first time really good," he said. "That was wild. It was her thing."
Stormo said he plans to use the Quest as a training ground for his -- and Jessica's -- ultimate dream.
"I might do the Quest a couple of years in a row. I want to see how it is to do 1,000 miles. It's a good one to learn on," he said. "I'm so new at this that it's unreal. I've got a good team. I just have to stay on top and keep training. Right now, I walk in and people say, 'Who's Stormo?'
"But the game plan is the Iditarod," he said. "I'm going to run the Iditarod."
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