Don Bowers never had a prayer of winning the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He lacked, most notably, the single-minded focus shared by the top competitors. Bowers had too many things going on.
A man in love with the idea and the mystique of the Iditarod as much as with the race itself, he'd just as soon talk Iditarod as train for Iditarod. Where others immersed themselves in breeding or buying the best of dogs and then training them to a peak, Bowers split his time among his job as an airplane pilot, his dogs and hours of writing -- nearly all of it devoted to the Iditarod.
He penned a musher's training diary for the Iditarod Web site in which he reported almost daily on his preparations for the race. He wrote a trail guide and an Iditarod book, "Back of the Pack." Just prior to his untimely death in 2000, in a plane accident while flying National Park rangers to Mount McKinley, Bowers had completed a history of the trail, the Alaska sled dog and the system of winter routes that made dog team travel a way of life in Alaska for a time early in the last century.
Bowers had been in love with Iditarod adventure ever since he signed on as a volunteer for the Iditarod Air Force early in the race's history. Hauling supplies to wilderness checkpoints to assist the mushers streaming north to Nome only satiated for a time his urge for adventure.
By 1995, he had decided to make his first bid for the Iditarod belt buckle cherished by all who complete "The Last Great Race." He was forced to scratch that year. But in the best Iditarod tradition, he was back the next year.
In 1996, he earned the first of those coveted buckles. It only served to strengthen the bond. Over the course of the next four years, he would throw huge amounts of time and effort into promoting and protecting the trail. He was busy doing that, in fact, just days before his death, actively lobbying to find some way to keep snowmobile traffic from pulverizing the trail in the days and weeks just before the race.
Inducted 2001 Greatest accomplishment Finishing his first Iditarod in 1996 and authoring the 1998 book "Back of the Pack." Vital stats Born: Fort Smith, Ark. Hometown: Willow Died: 2000, age 52 Best finish 40th in 1997 Fastest time 1999 -- 13 days, 16 hours Race record 1995 Scratched 1996 48th 1997 40th 1998 Scratched 1999 44th Awards Sportsmanship -- 1997