NASHVILLE -- Tennessee National Guardsman Master Sgt. Rodney Whaley's choice of transportation looks out of place among the manicured green lawns and brick homes in his suburban neighborhood.
With a wheeled sled at his home in Franklin, Whaley has been training with his team of dogs to become what he believes would be the first Tennessean to complete the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in March.
"I have been running my dogs around my neighborhood for about five years now, so I guess my neighbors are used to it," Whaley said in an e-mail interview.
Whaley, who is in his 50s, says his experience as an active duty soldier and his childhood in Alaska will help him through the 1,100-mile race.
To better prepare for the race and work out in the snow, Whaley is currently training in northern Michigan, where the closest place where he can get a cell phone signal is in the Upper Peninsula town of Newberry.
"Right now I run my team four out of seven days, resting them the other three days," said Whaley, who will race with a 16-dog team. "We are trying to keep the dogs in shape but not overworking them. We don't want any unnecessary injuries."
Although Whaley is training with a veteran of the Iditarod -- Al Hardman, who owns the sled dogs -- Whaley will be on his own during the grueling contest. Billed as "The World's Last Great Race," the race starts in downtown Anchorage on March 1 and crosses two mountain ranges, travels along the Yukon River and over the frozen Norton Sound. Racers pass 25 checkpoints before reaching Nome.
"My goal is to finish the race and make it to Nome," Whaley said. "I don't have a goal as for a time. I just want to finish. I want to finish with happy, healthy dogs."
Whaley moved to Alaska with his family when he was 6 years old and saw his first sled dog team in the first grade. He started junior racing at the age of 9 and continued until high school, when his family returned to their home state of North Carolina.
He has spent much his married life, 35 years, in Tennessee and feels honored to represent the state and the Army National Guard, which is sponsoring him this year.
"The National Guard has taught me a lot of discipline, and running the Iditarod will call for a lot of discipline," he said.
After five months of training, Whaley will leave Michigan on Feb. 20 to go to Anchorage for the start.
FOR MORE on Master Sgt. Rodney Whaley's Iditarod bid, go to