Friends, family and fans gathered in the parking lot of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Superior Tuesday, March 2, to welcome Morgan Martens home following his victory in the 2021 Junior Iditarod Sunday, Feb. 28.
The Northwestern Middle School student from the town of Brule held his championship plaque for pictures, signed a shirt for Duluth fan Chris Rankala and shared hugs with family members.
Martens, 14, finished the two-day event with a time of 27 hours, 15 minutes and 20 seconds. Windy weather and poor trails didn’t slow Martens and his team of 10 sled dogs. They pushed on, reaching an average speed of 9.76 mph on the final leg of the race.
It was the longest race Martens had run, said his father, Tim Martens, but the teen was very focused and “all business” on the trail.
"It was a great opportunity for him," Tim Martens said. "Very, very proud of him. An amazing feat."
The race kicked off with an earthquake. As 10 teams lined up on Knik Lake, the earth shook, and Martens could hear the ice beneath them crack.
Along the trail, the Brule teen had a chance encounter with a moose and its calf.
“They were walking on the side of the trail. I came up behind them with the team around the corner and they spooked,” said Martens. “They were kind of running alongside of me for a little bit” before they ran off.
He took a few wrong turns, but quickly got back on track with the help of lead dogs Henry and Bob. The dogs were his sole companions for the majority of the two-day race. The other teams were out of sight.
“I passed everybody within 11 miles of the start, and I didn’t see anyone until Yentna (Station),” where the teams spent the night, Martens said.
He cared for the dogs — removing their booties and taglines, setting out straw for them to lay in and boiling water to warm their frozen meat and kibble supper.
After a mandatory 10 hours of down time, the team raced the second half in solitude until they reached the finish line.
“I didn’t believe that I won — it didn’t feel real,” Martens said. “It was amazing and really awesome."
The win netted Martens a new racing sled and a trophy plaque. He was also named Rookie of the Year.
The teen’s trek to the Junior Iditarod started months ago when he began training with Alaska musher Ryan Redington and his dogs in Brule.
When the family arrived in Alaska on Feb. 19, Martens immediately went to work with the dogs he’d come to know. Their week and a half reunion included four 36-mile runs, one 13-mile run and the Junior Iditarod — 150 miles in two days.
Why run the Junior Iditarod? It started with his older sister, Talia.
“Just following in my sister’s footsteps,” Martens said. “She ran the Junior Iditarod in 2018. She kind of paved the path, the trail for me. She helped a lot. She was a big reason that I got to come up here and do the race. So are my parents. They did a lot of planning and organization.”
Now that the race is finished, Martens is looking forward to getting involved in basketball and turning his attention to track in the spring, his father said.
How can the teen follow up the win? Martens said he plans to run the Beargrease 120 next year.