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'Mushin' Mortician' believes mental toughness gives him an edge

Beth Bragg
Four-time champion Martin Buser and Iditarider Damian Sharp acknowledge fans during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Trent Herbst of Ketchum, Idaho drives his team down Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Kris Hoffman of Steamboat Springs, Colorado drives his team down Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Mitch Seavey of Seward greets fans along the trail during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dallas Seavey of Willow passes the mile four mark during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow and Iditarider Beverley Nelms of Texas make the turn onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Angie Taggart of Ketchikan and her Iditarider Marthalee Beckington of Virginia reach for hot dogs at mile four of the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A musher cruises past the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium Building en route to the Tudor Road bridge during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sebastian Schnuelle of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, acknowledges fans singing "O Canada" as he passes the mile four muffin checkpoint during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Hugh Neff of Tok promotes reading with Cat in the Hat garb at mile four of the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Lachlan Clarke of Buena Vista, Colorado cruises the trails adjacent to the Wesleyan Drive neighborhood during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, left, follows Mitch Seavey of Seward through the mile four muffin checkpoint on the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Scott Janssen of Anchorage greets well-wishers on the trail along Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Melissa Linton takes a tumble riding the second sled for husband Bruce Linton of Kasilof as the team takes the Cordova Street turn from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage. Melissa, the principal of K-Beach Elementary School in Soldotna, was unharmed but anticipates getting an earful when she gets home. "Friends said if there's a picture in the news of someone taking a spill, it will be her," Bruce related afterwards.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Fans ascend the berm to get a good view as dog teams make the turn from Fourth Avenue onto Cordova Street during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Melissa Owens' dogs lead the Nome musher's team onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Karen Duchow greets mushers cruising the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Fans line up two deep on the Cordova Street berm to photograph mushers making the turn off Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Tom Thurston of Oak Creek, Colorado cruises through the mile four muffin checkpoint as the trail parallels a neighborhood during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers approaches the mile four muffin checkpoint along the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Allen Moore of Two Rivers greets fans during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Musher Mike Santos and his handler wave to the crowds during the ceremonial start Saturday morning. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Judy Currier's team pulls towards Campbell Airstrip after making the turn near Goose Lake. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
A young fan yells encouragement during the race start on Saturday. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The dogs of Unalakleet musher Paul Johnson cross the new bridge over Chester Creek following recent trail work adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Four-time champion Martin Buser of Big Lake hits the brakes as his team turn onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Scott Janssen makes his way over the bridge over Northern Lights Saturday morning. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Gerald Sousa's dogs work their way through the crowd as the Talkeetna musher is offered hot dogs and water on the approach to the Tudor Road bridge during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Angie Taggart of Ketchikan acknowledges fans as her team turns the corner onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle and her handler keep the sleds upright during a fast turn after the bridge over Northern Lights. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Jessica Hendricks team pulls across the Northern Lights bridge Saturday morning during the ceremonial start through Anchorage. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
A team of another kind was on the Iditarod trail Saturday morning, with man pulling a young musher. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The dogs of five-time winner Rick Swenson cross the new bridge over Chester Creek installed during recent trail work adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Martin Buser's handler puts pressure on the sled during the hill towards the bridge over Northern Lights. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Wattie McDonald's second sled was flying the Scottish flag as well as the Alaska flag during the ceremonial start Saturday. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Hugh Neff, rider and handler mush across the bridge over Northern Lights Saturday morning. Neff supports the Read Across Alaska program and the Cat in the Hat is a common character on his sled. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Wattie McDonald sports a kilt during the ceremonial start in Anchorage, Saturday. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Parties line the route of the Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage. Mushers are treated to hotdogs and other treats along the way. The 2011 Iditarod got unde rway March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
A Pabst Blue Ribbon beer was a treat received by musher Ed Stielstra during the ceremonial start Saturday. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, AK heads down 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kris Hoffman of Steam Boat Springs, CO leaves the start line during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, AK heads down 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Four time champion Lance Mackey turns backwards on his sled to greet fans near Goose Lake, Saturday morning. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Fans cheer and request dog booties near Mulcahy Stadium. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Russ Wilmot directs musher traffic as they line up for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011. This is Wilmot's 30th Iditarod.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Gerald Sousa's team is ready to race as they get ready to leave the start line 2nd to last during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sonny Lindner's team run down Cordova Street. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
McLeoad, one of Sven Haltmann's dogs, waits to run. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Jessie Royer of Fairbanks drives down a hill on Cordova Street. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Lance Mackey of Fairbanks, AK leaves the start line during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Justin Savidis' dogs rest. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Scott Janssen, of Anchorage, AK before the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
A young race fan watches the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011 from a window above grizzly's gift store.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kristy Berington of Kasilof, AK visits with one of her team as she puts booties on them before the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Karin Hendrickson of Willow waves the the crowd. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Kris Hoffman of Steam Boat Springs, CO leaves the start line during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Clara Bankston with her mink coat her sister Eunice Lane made and Jerry Bankston with a black bear coat watch the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011. Bankston harvested the bear.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Judy Currier of Fairbanks sets out from the start line. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Four-time champion Martin Buser and Iditarider Damian Sharp acknowledge fans during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Trent Herbst of Ketchum, Idaho drives his team down Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Kris Hoffman of Steamboat Springs, Colorado drives his team down Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Mitch Seavey of Seward greets fans along the trail during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dallas Seavey of Willow passes the mile four mark during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow and Iditarider Beverley Nelms of Texas make the turn onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Angie Taggart of Ketchikan and her Iditarider Marthalee Beckington of Virginia reach for hot dogs at mile four of the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A musher cruises past the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium Building en route to the Tudor Road bridge during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sebastian Schnuelle of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, acknowledges fans singing "O Canada" as he passes the mile four muffin checkpoint during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Hugh Neff of Tok promotes reading with Cat in the Hat garb at mile four of the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Lachlan Clarke of Buena Vista, Colorado cruises the trails adjacent to the Wesleyan Drive neighborhood during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, left, follows Mitch Seavey of Seward through the mile four muffin checkpoint on the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Scott Janssen of Anchorage greets well-wishers on the trail along Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Melissa Linton takes a tumble riding the second sled for husband Bruce Linton of Kasilof as the team takes the Cordova Street turn from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage. Melissa, the principal of K-Beach Elementary School in Soldotna, was unharmed but anticipates getting an earful when she gets home. "Friends said if there's a picture in the news of someone taking a spill, it will be her," Bruce related afterwards.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Fans ascend the berm to get a good view as dog teams make the turn from Fourth Avenue onto Cordova Street during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Melissa Owens' dogs lead the Nome musher's team onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Karen Duchow greets mushers cruising the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Fans line up two deep on the Cordova Street berm to photograph mushers making the turn off Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

Scott Janssen, the Anchorage funeral director who calls himself the Mushin' Mortician, is a dog driver who comes equipped with necklines and punchlines.

Asked if anyone's ever told him that the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a stiff undertaking, the undertaker doesn't miss a beat.

"No," Janssen says with perfect timing, "but I'm dying to do it."

A man with an appreciation for the offbeat -- radio ads for his funeral homes are set to Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" -- Janssen is a rookie in the 39th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

He said he briefly considered using a hearse as a dog truck, an idea deemed impractical, but his fancy dog truck leaves no doubt about the occupation of its owner. "The Mushin' Mortician" nickname appears prominently, as does the logo for Janssen's funeral home.

Gimmicks aside, Janssen is serious about his pursuit of sled-dog racing, just as he is determined to treat the dead with dignity.

He is a garrulous man who quotes Robert Service and is as apt to answer a question with an essay as he is a quip. He looks little like the man pictured in portrait hanging near the entrance to Evergreen Funeral Home, and not because he's gone gray since sitting for the photo.

The man in the photo is clean-cut and the man on his way to Nome has grown a goatee and has let his hair grow long for the first time since the 1970s. The man in the photo looks like a businessman. The man going to Nome looks like a musher.

Janssen is both businessman and musher, and he thinks his career as a funeral director and embalmer has given him an attitude that will help him on the 1,000-mile trip to Nome.

"The things we've seen, and the way people die -- right about the time you think you've seen it all, you see something new," he said. "I've seen things that psychologically some people would have a hard time getting through, and that gives me a mental toughness."

He vows he'll make it to the finish line, but he knows every musher thinks that until they break a leg or bust a sled or their dogs get sick.

His race could end "if something happens with the dogs, if something happens with the sled," he said, "but I'm not going to quit because of some psychological problem or physical problem. I broke my big toe three or four weeks ago, dislocated it, and it's duct-taped to two other toes right now. Things like that happen, and you need to keep going."

'I WAS HOOKED'

Janssen began his journey to this year's Iditarod almost as soon as he and his wife Debbie moved to Anchorage in 1985 for what they believed would be a two-year interlude from their life in Crookston, Minn.

On the first Saturday of March 1986, Janssen went downtown to check out the start of the Iditarod, kicking off a tradition that has yet to be interrupted.

About a 15 years ago while at the race, he heard Kasilof musher Paul Gebhardt talking and recognized a Minnesota accent. Janssen introduced himself, the two chatted, and Janssen told Gebhardt that if he ever needed a sponsor, to give him a call.

"We became the first funeral home to sponsor a musher in the Iditarod," Janssen said.

The sponsorship turned into a friendship, so much so that on Christmas Day of 2007, Gebhardt turned to Janssen for help during a tragedy. The previous day, Sarah Armstrong, the wife of Clam Gulch musher and 1984 Iditarod champion Dean Osmar, had died in a Sterling Highway car accident and Osmar had asked Gebhardt to make her coffin.

"I went down to Kasilof to give Paul some pointers on how to build a coffin, and late that night Paul said, 'You want to go mushing?' I said, 'You mean ride in the sled?' and he said, 'No, you take 14 dogs and I take 14 dogs.'

"I was hooked. ... That feeling of standing on the runners, there's no better feeling."

FIRST SLED DOG

About the same time Janssen became a sponsor for Gebhardt, a stray dog wandered into his family's yard -- and into its life. Named Thunder -- either for the sound he made when walking or for an AC/DC song, Janssen doesn't remember which -- the dog provided Janssen with his first taste of mushing.

"We lived on L Street and every winter we'd build a big igloo in our yard," Janssen said. "I was going to work one day and this big husky came running out of the igloo."

Debbie gave the skinny animal some dog food, and the family papered the neighborhood with "Dog found" signs while praying no one would come collect the dog. No one did, and Thunder was a member of the family for the next 12 years. When Anchorage was buried by a record snowfall on St. Patrick's Day of 2002, Janssen hitched Thunder to a sled and mushed to the Aurora Village Carrs.

"He was the best dog ever," said Janssen, who cried while remembering the dog who died in 2008. "And here we are three years later and one of the dogs who is taking me out in the ceremonial start is Thor, who in mythology is the god of thunder, and who is identical to Thunder. Sometimes I even slip and call him Thunder.

"It's weird how things work out. Some people call it fate, some call it a plan. I think things happen for a reason"

SETTING ROOTS IN ALASKA

Early in their marriage, Scott and Debbie's plans didn't remotely include Alaska.

The coupled married in 1980, during Debbie's senior year of high school -- even though, as Scott points out in case anyone is wondering, they didn't have to; daughters Angela, 25, and Chelsea, 20, were born years later.

They planned on living in Crookston forever. But they lived two houses away from a funeral director who convinced Janssen he'd be good at the job.

After studying mortuary science and graduating from the University of Minnesota, Janssen was ready to accept a job in the Twin Cities. Then Dick Rome, one of the original partners at Evergreen Funeral Home and a Minnesota man, came looking for morticians. Scott and Debbie decided they were up for a two-year adventure and headed north.

Two years turned into three, but the couple still planned to return to Minnesota. And again fate intervened. Dave Franke, the owner of the funeral home, died of a heart attack at age 60, and Janssen couldn't bear to leave. His employers and coworkers had become family, and he couldn't desert them.

About a week ago, Janssen had a dream that he was mushing across muskeg and out of nowhere was a huge house being painted by a man on a ladder. The man was Dave Franke.

"I put my snowhook down and he petted my swing dogs and I gave him a big hug. 'I think about you every day, Dave,' I told him. He said, 'I can't believe you're running the Iditarod.' ''

Janssen never got to say goodbye to Franke in life, but he did in that dream.

"If not for him, I wouldn't be on the runners," Janssen said, fighting back tears. "It's all those things, and how they come together, and how they're all tied to me running dogs. I'll be thinking about that dream during the hard times of the race."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com