FALL 2012 | St. Lawrence University Magazine 3
Cocooned in a thick snowsuit and fur-lined parka, I could still feel
the cold bite of the Bering Sea storm. It was packing minus-40-degree
temperatures and a bone-chilling wind.
by Colleen Morrow Robertia ’98
I walked to the front of my
team of 16 sled dogs to wipe
the ice and snow out of my
lead dogs’ eyes. My canine
companions and I, dependent
on each other for survival, were
miles from roads, phones or
any other form of civilization.
We were traveling together
through some of the most remote northern stretches of nature
on the planet, competing in the Iditarod, a 1,049-mile adventure
race across Alaska.
While the Iditarod trail and my life in Alaska seem far in time
and distance from St. Lawrence University, it was my college
experiences that formed the foundation of who I am and all I
have accomplished. More people have stood on the summit of
Mount Everest than have made it from Anchorage to Nome by dog
team to earn the title of Iditarod veteran. Even fewer have been
women, and fewer still have done it with a team of runts, rogues
and “rescues” from animal shelters or other dog owners. Yet, 2012
was the second year my dogs and I successfully made the trek,
claiming 21st out of 66 starters after spending a continuous 10
days, 20 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds on the trail.
They say the college years are the most formative years. Living
in the Low-Impact Living Greenhouse theme cottage, studying
in Kenya as part of my environmental studies-biology combined
major and playing on the women’s basketball team all unlocked
my passion for conservation, spirit of adventure and love of
the outdoors. Theme cottage life taught me how to live in an
environmentally responsible manner, and I still live by these
principles today. Playing post on the basketball team developed
the physical athleticism and mental perseverance not merely
to survive the Iditarod, but also to thrive in it. I have applied
what I learned of environmental conservation to my kennel of
sled dogs, who have nearly all come to me as castaways. I’ve
relied on my vast St. Lawrence experiences to beat some of the
biggest names in the sport of mushing while never compromising
my dogs’ health or safety, earning multiple humanitarian,
sportsmanship and “Best Spirit of the North” awards in numerous
dog sled races.
One of my lead Iditarod dogs is a husky that some of the best
veterinarians in Alaska said would never be a sled dog again.
Wolf, a feisty black-and-white dog with glacier-blue eyes, was hit
by a car as a 2-year-old, suffering a shattered hind leg. I acquired
him, and through rehabilitation and patience, the more he ran
the stronger he got. When the time came to pick my 16 dogs for
the Iditarod, Wolf made the list, and he made it all the way to
I identify with Wolf. I defy convention and often find personal
success by prevailing where others won’t dare go. My years at
St. Lawrence nurtured this trait. My goal in competitive mushing,
just as in my life, is not so much to win as to succeed on my own
terms. In the end, maybe that is what all Laurentians learn to
strive for.
To learn more about Colleen Robertia’s adventures or to help
support her efforts to save sled dogs at her Rogues Gallery Kennel,
visit her website at