Newton Marshall remembers the first time he ever saw snow. Because for the Iditarod rookie, it was just four years ago.
"I didn’t know what to expect ... I knew it would be cold but thought it would be like a rainy day in Jamaica. On the first day they pulled me on a snowmobile -- my first time in the snow -- it was freezing and very shocking and I thought I was going to fly; so amazing to see dogs move that fast."
Marshall is the first Jamaican ever to run in the Iditarod, which probably doesn't surprise you. What may surprise you, though, is that he's actually pretty good at this dog mushing thing. In his first attempt, he completed the Yukon Quest, a sled dog race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon, which is considered even harder than the Iditarod, earning it the title "toughest race in the world."
"He works very, very hard at his craft," says Chas St. George, spokesman for the Iditarod. "He ran the 2009 Yukon Quest, and as a rookie he finished that race. It's a 1,000-mile race. Many rookies who later on in their careers have run all kinds of races have failed to finish that particular race."
He's come a long way from his mushing start, when he was with fellow Jamaican Danny Melville shopping for dune buggies and happened across a sled with wheels used for training dogs on dry land. Shortly thereafter, the Jamaican Doglsed Team was born, thanks to some funding from one Jimmy Buffett.
Singer Jimmy Buffett is among Marshall's strongest supporters. "He's absolutely a hero to kids in Jamaica," Buffett said.
Buffett's Margaritaville restaurants are key sponsors for Marshall's dog-sled team, and the famed songwriter says he did not hesitate to back Marshall after learning of his story. Buffett first heard of the Jamaican after meeting Danny Melville, who runs a family-owned tour business in Jamaica where Marshall was employed as a guide.
"I thought from the beginning it was just very cool what he was doing," Buffett said. "I thought it was so far out there, but it made people smile when they heard about it."
While Marshall began training in his home country with dogs from the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (a plot you may have seen in "Sun Dogs"), he now runs with a team of dogs borrowed from three-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey's kennel.
Marshall is currently in 54th place (out of 71 total entries), and at the Ophir checkpoint, where the windchill is -14 degrees. But really, just finishing would be an accomplishment. "I don't see any big worries. I just can't wait to get there," he says. "I'm planning on finishing the race."