ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher Wade Marrs shares a special bond with 10-year-old Ashley Perry, whom he met during the 2013 race. The two rekindled their shared memories at Marrs' new kennel in Willow, when Perry recently paid him a visit.
It's been a year since Marrs and Perry have seen each other, and like most close friends they pick up right where they left off.
"I want to be a musher, really bad," the Anchorage girl said.
Marrs, 23 — a top-20 finisher in the Iditarod, who started mushing before Perry was born — has become her inspiration.
This duo shares a lot more than a common love of dogs. It's a story of true friendship that began at the 2013 Iditarod.
"He was really nice," Perry said.
"It was really interesting to meet someone driven as her, as happy all the time, very chipper," Marrs said.
Perry was Marrs' IditaRider, a companion carried in his sled during the bustling ceremonial start of the Iditarod in downtown Anchorage. IditaRider seats are sold at auction as a fundraiser for the race, but a generous donor in New York bought Perry a seat with Marrs.
At one point before the 11-mile ceremonial run that day, Marrs said the excitement led Perry to take a brief nap in the sled.
"I just kind of tapped her a little bit and made sure she was just sleeping," Marrs said. "She woke up and I go, 'Are you sleeping?' and she goes, 'No, I am not sleeping, I didn't fall asleep.'"
Asked about the moment, Perry recalled it with a smile.
"I fell asleep, OK?" Perry said. "I fell asleep on the opening ceremonies during the Iditarod."
While Marrs became Perry's introduction to mushing, Perry became Marrs' introduction to Turner syndrome, a chromosomal disorder affecting women with various symptoms.
"Some people have some health issues along with it, and mine is I can't fight bacterial infections," Perry said.
Every three weeks, Perry undergoes about two hours of life-saving transfusions. Her bravery and courage are what motivates Marrs during The Last Great Race.
"She is a huge inspiration to us, as hard as she fights for everything and as happy as she is to get everything that she gets," Marrs said. "Whenever situations got tough or hard — 'I don't really want to do this' or 'I don't really want to be here,' I just kind of think about how hard she would fight for something like that."
The next stop on this duo's trail is bringing greater awareness of Turner syndrome to more people around the state.
"He is even dedicating his miles to Turner syndrome awareness," Perry said.
Side by side, these friends will continue to inspire and support each other to the finish.
Since they met, Perry has been to all of Marrs' Iditarod starts. She hopes to prove that a disability doesn't have to stand in the way of your dreams.
This year, Perry hopes to get a chance to witness her favorite musher finish first in Nome.
Ashley was also named Alaska's Children's Miracle Network Champion for 2014. These champions serve as ambassadors for the 17 million children treated at Children's Miracle Network hospitals annually.
Information from: KTUU-TV, http://www.ktuu.com