With millions of Americans hunkering down indoors to avoid the bitter arctic cold blanketing most of the nation, Newton Marshall is braving a kind of cold that makes this past January’s frost look like beach weather.
So what makes a young man from Jamaica’s St. Ann’s parish decide to trek to Alaska to race on little sleep through whiteout blizzard conditions, gale force winds, temperatures as low as 40 below zero, and nothing but dogs to keep him company for more than eight days? Love of the sport.
Wickedest Endurance Race
While Jamaica has proven its ability to produce the most legendary sprinters in history, Newton Marshall may well be its most promising endurance athlete. The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race spans 980 miles from Anchorage to Nome, and can take one musher and a team of Alaskan husky dogs up to 15 days to complete. In addition to the extreme cold, other dangers lurk in the wilderness including wolves and moose attacks.
First race was 200 miles
Newton began training back in Jamaica with Chukka Adventures in 2005. He made his Alaskan racing debut as a part of the team in 2008.
“My first race was the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race in Dawson City and it was 200 miles,” said Newton. “Even though it was cold and there was a lot of jumble ice – it looked like someone just threw down glass on the ground – it was challenging but fun at the same time because it was my first.”
“I was watching other mushers who had experience wiping out right in front of my eyes,” he continued. “That year I got the Sportsmanship Award because in that race I was helping out a lot of people and everybody was always seeing me smiling.”
Newton placed 7th out of 15th in the Percy DeWolfe race. He made history in 2010 as the first Caribbean national to participate in the Iditarod. In 2014, he made national headlines after he stopped his own trek to assist fellow musher Scott Janssen who had fallen on ice, blacked out after hitting his head, and broke his ankle.
2020 on the horizon
Although the 2019 race starts today, Newton’s got his eyes on 2020. He’s working on his permanent American residency so that he can raise money to compete as an individual. He estimates that it will cost nearly US$100,000 to race and hopes that the Caribbean-American community will get behind the idea of another athlete representing Jamaica in the frozen wilderness. He also shared advice for young athletes in the Caribbean pursuing an endurance sport.
“I’ve been on the trail four times. You can’t give up on something just because it’s not going great,” said Newton. “All you can do is going forward no matter what. I didn’t want to do it after I felt that cold temperature. I wanted to go back to Jamaica and I wanted to go back to my warmth. But I made a promise and I kept it. You just always, no matter how tough it is, try to find that the perseverance. I’m not stopping here. It’s still a fight until the end.”
Best of luck to this year’s athletes, and Newton’s quest toward racing in 2020.