George’s Buffet (312 E Market St, Iowa City) — Wednesday, June 28 at 7 p.m.
Iowa City’s Emily Maxwell never expected to find herself racing sled dogs in the Iditarod. But this year she completed a 200-mile and two 300-mile qualifying races, and if she can raise the $50,000 it takes to get to the starting line, Maxwell will race nearly 1,000 miles next March.
To help her get there, Maxwell will host a fundraiser Wednesday at George’s. The evening will include a historical presentation about the Iditarod, a photo slideshow of Maxwell’s qualifying season, a question and answer session and live music by Dave Zollo and Brian Cooper. Guests can also participate in a silent auction featuring Englert tickets, local art, gift cards to local businesses like Revival and Oasis and a traditional native Alaskan knife called an ulu.
Maxwell said those who are unfamiliar with mushing often incorrectly assume that male and female mushers race separately.
“In that world, out of all the worlds I’ve been in in my life, I feel like there’s the least amount of split between men and women and I feel like women are very respected in the sport. The respect that you get in the sport really comes from how well you take care of your dogs, and how tough you are,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell moved to Alaska last year, joining her boyfriend Nic Petit, an award-winning musher who came in third in last year’s race. Petit introduced Maxwell to the sport, and the couple share 41 Alaskan huskies.
“He’s a good person to be learning from and we share dogs, so I’m really lucky to get awesome dogs,” Maxwell said. “They’re like a scrappy little Siberian. They’re more slender and muscular, and faster.”
During the summer, Maxwell works 60-80 hours a week at five different jobs to save enough for training season, when caring for the dogs becomes a full-time job. Every day in the fall and winter she takes them out to run, increasing the distance as the race’s date approaches.
Iditarod mushers travel roughly 100 miles a day depending on trail conditions, so the race often takes weeks to complete. There are only three mandatory rests along the way, one for 24 hours and two eight-hour stops.
“On the shorter races and if you want to be competitive you don’t do a lot of rest,” said Maxwell, who recently slept for one hour total during a four-day race. “Hallucinations are really common.”
Some mushers sleep on their sleds while continuing the race, but Maxwell said she feels safer waiting to rest at a checkpoint. She decides when it’s time to get moving again based on the behavior of her dogs.
“I look at the dogs and I’m like, if they’re sitting at the checkpoint after three hours and they’re looking around and ready to go, then we’ll go,” she said. “I know I can push myself, but I’m not going to push them more than they need to be.”
Mushers prepare drop bags with supplies they’ll need and have them sent to checkpoints along the trail. Supplies include food for dogs and humans, fresh socks, neck warmers, tools and extra dog booties.
The connection Maxwell has with her dogs keeps her going, she said.
“They’re sweet and they’re encouraging. People always say, ‘Oh, you’re alone out there!’ and you’re not. You’ve got your little buddies.”
There is a $25 suggested donation for the George’s event, and 5 percent of the proceeds will go to Iowa City’s Free Medical Clinic.
“I’m an Iowa girl through and through. I talk about Iowa City all the time up there, so I really want to be able to give something back to thank people for their support,” Maxwell said.
Those who can’t make the event can join Maxwell on Saturday, July 1 at noon in College Green Park where she will be teaching a half-hour pilates session followed by a yoga class taught by Kelsey Karr. Donations for the classes will go towards Maxwell’s race as well.