What the Red Lantern Award Means To Me

On March 2, 2013 I took part in the 30 mile Can Am Sled Dog Race. My husband Kevin wrote up a recap of the day from a spectator’s point of view. You can read that report here: 2013 Can Am 30 Recap by Kevin Powers.

In 2008 I was inspired by Deborah Bicknell who, as a 63 year old woman, was the last musher to finish the 1,000 mile Iditarod sled dog race. She is the oldest woman to finish that grueling journey to date and when she received the Red Lantern which is awarded to the last musher to come off the trail, she was asked if she had a message for people and she said:
Live your life the way that makes you happy. Stay…active as long as possible. We have enough time of being really old, so we don’t want to get there too soon.
During her post race interview she was asked if she’d learned anything and she replied that she found out she was tougher than she thought she was.

Red Lantern Award

Red Lantern Award. Photo by Kevin Powers

When I reread that interview this week I was particularly struck by that statement and I connected with the comment on a whole new level. Because I too was now the recipient of a Red Lantern. Granted it was not for finishing the Iditarod but it was for finishing the Can Am 30 International Sled Dog Race and it meant probably as much to me as Deborah’s lantern meant to her.

When I retired from teaching in 2005 I found myself reflecting on the things I had not yet done in my life. I had no desire to run a 1,000 mile sled dog race but I did want to experience mushing and decided that even though I had been “over the hill” a few times, that didn’t mean it was too late for me to give this sport a try. Over the next few years I would learn about training sled dogs and I would enter races “just for fun” to measure my progress. As it turns out I never came in last.

Running for the fun of it. Photo by Marlene Richards

Running for the fun of it. Photo by Marlene Richards, Can Am Volunteer Handler

I was generally among the last finishers but I’d never come in last. That is until this year. On March 2, 2013 I went out the starting chute as #13 in the 30 mile Can Am International Sled Dog Race. My goal was not to win, it was to finish. Even though I had decided to run the race back in September the intervening months kept turning up with roadblocks to my training. At 65, when life or Mother Nature throws you a curve ball that puts you off balance, you don’t adjust and switch gears as quickly as you do when you’re young. But the important thing is to Mush On! So that is what I did. And when I crossed the finish line 5 hours and 37 minutes after starting, I didn’t think of the disappointment I’d felt when I realized I would not improve on the time of my first Can Am run in 2011. Instead I focused on the exhilirating feeling I had of having not only made it to the starting line but I’d made it to the finish line as well. I was filled with gratitude and pride in my dog team and the moment itself was the perfect reward for me.

Then one of the officials came up to me and told me I was the Red Lantern finisher and instead of being discouraged by that I was ecstatic. The meaning behind the Red Lantern is to recognize the perseverance and determination in the musher who doesn’t quit and who makes it to the finish line. What an honor. As far as I was concerned it represented every musher out there who had crossed the line ahead of me. Each and every one of them was a symbol of perseverance and determination. But for me what was so very thrilling was the energy I felt in my dogs as they trotted over the last 2 miles. They were running with joy and so was I . Yes we were working but we were loving the work. My heart was bursting with joy and gratitude for my team. I felt so privileged to be along for a ride they obviously seemed to be enjoying. And I was proud of their perseverance and mine because I was reminded of the challenges I’d faced and had overcome over the past 7 months to make it to this point and no one could take that away from me.

Finish of Can Am 30. Photo by Sara Levesque, Can Am 30 Finisher

Can Am 30 Finish. Photo by Sara Levesque, Can Am 30 Finisher

Like Deborah Bicknell I suddenly realized that I was tougher than I thought I was. What a great feeling that is. And when that Can Am official at the finish looked up at my friends and said “She’s the happiest musher to have come across the line today” I knew I had done what I’d set out to do. Cross the finish line with a smile on my face and smiles on the 6 dogs who’d been my teammates. That’s what it’s all about for me. The day that I come in from a run without a smile on my face is the day I get off the runners for good.

Taking up mushing in my later years has helped me find a passion I can focus on. It has taught me that, young or old, everyone can live a dream. It all depends on your willingness to put in the effort.

It doesn’t matter if you are a toddler learning how to tie a shoe, a jogger training to run a half marathon, an overweight man or woman wanting to get healthy, a golfer hoping to take 10 strokes off his score, a musician performing a complicated piece, or a young mother who has gone back to school who must balance homework with 2 sick children needing her attention. No matter what goals we set, life gets in the way. That’s a given. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set them. Whether they be small goals or big ones, they keep us going. And when we attain them we find out how tough we are. And that knowledge is not only satisfying, it’s motivating. And motivation gives us the confidence to try more new paths, and those paths lead to adventures. That is living life to the fullest.

So my advice to those who ask is to find something you are passionate about and then live it. Living life passionately makes the journey worthwhile. And if you have not found your passion then spend every day of your life looking for it. That journey itself will be a joyride.

Can Am 30 Start. Photo by Paul Cyr

Can Am 30 Start. Photo by Paul Cyr

I end here with the words of someone who could say it much better than I could.

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Abraham Lincoln

Happy Trails!


  1. You are so right Linda. Hope we can keep mushing till we are 90!! Or maybe we will find another goal just as tough. Great attitude, I’m proud of you. You had a lot to contend with, living in the warm south and taking on borrowed dogs.

    • Thanks Joan. I do have an advantage having wonderful friends and mentors like you and Gary. Thanks for helping me make it a great season!

  2. I loved this, Linda! Well said, and I think we all share your joy when we read about how you felt! And that photo of you and the team, with the snow fluttering across your smile and the smiles of the dogs, that’s a great photo! I hope you have that framed on your wall somewhere; it’s a classic!

    Thanks to you – and your One-Man Pit Crew -for sharing all this; it has been wonderful to be part of it. And: Congratulations!! I think you are a winner!!!

    We’re going to talk!


    • Thanks Marty! I appreciate your support! Yes let’s chat. Would love to meet you, perhaps half way to the shore for lunch and a long chat. =)

  3. Hi Linda,
    What a great experience you had.I love seeing the pictures and sharing
    in your adventures with mushing. Congratulations on your award.
    Ruth Whitsett

  4. Hi Linda,
    It has taken me some weeks to get to this but I tucked it away and hoped for a less frantic time to read your reflections. Well worth the wait. Your words are a mirror for the passion of which you speak and great for those of us in our 6th decade. Keep up your joyous mushing


    • Thanks Patty. Glad you enjoyed it. Happy Trails to you! =)

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