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Q&A with Jed Stephensen

Family Man, ER Nurse, Ultra-Marathoner and Dog Musher By Jillian Chandler | Photo by Adair Media

Q&A with Jed Stephensen

Jed Stephensen and his wife Amy moved to North Idaho from Kansas in 2015 “to get back to the mountains,” as Amy grew up in the West and Jed attended college in Idaho. Together, they have built a beautiful life here in Sandpoint with their twin 8-year-old boys.

Jed, who works as an ER nurse, has always enjoyed the wilderness—whether it be backpacking with his family, fishing, running, you name it. He’s an ultra-marathon runner and sled dog racer—and 2023 marks his first Iditarod!

Q. Who is Jed Stephensen?

A. I am a dreamer and an adventurer—and want to show my boys that they too can do hard things. My family is important to me, with my dad filling the role of dog handler, my mom acting as our support team. My boys have helped with dog care from the beginning, learning to love our dogs and developing a work ethic.

Q. You will be participating in the 2023 Iditarod, with race day beginning March 4 (right as this issue hits the streets). What does training for an Iditarod entail? And what goal have you set for yourself when it comes to the competition?

A. I have been building a dog team for six years. Finally, last year, my team was ready to run 800 race miles required to qualify to run the Iditarod (similar to qualifying for the Boston Marathon). I work on keeping the dogs conditioned over the summer months. But the real training starts in early September as temperatures consistently drop below 50˚F. I build up from 2-mile runs up to 50-mile runs over five months. This year, I raced in Eagle Cap Extreme—a 200-mile race—and Idaho Sled Dog Challenge—a 300-mile race—to continue getting the team ready for Iditarod. I took second and third place, while receiving the veterinaries’ “Best Kept Team” award at the end of the first race. As a rookie (first time running Iditarod), my goal is to finish with a happy, healthy team.

Q. What inspired this journey? And when did you make the decision to move forward with it?

A. I grew up on my father’s Alaskan stories and knew that I wanted to be a dog musher since I was 9. I read the book Dog Song by Gary Paulson and was hooked on tails of the North.

Q. What are the names of your sled dogs? And how did you know they could be trained for such a race?

A. Sled dogs are usually named as a litter by theme. Our first litter was named after bears: Panda, Kodiak and Grizz. We named another litter after the dogs from Shakleton’s expedition: Sadie, Boomer and Sampson. There is also Loki and Freya. The rest of the dogs were acquired from other dog mushers: Seabiscuit, Addie, Kyle, Rio, Rajo, Muskox, Tigris, plus Marian.

The dogs all have Alaskan husky bloodlines, which are bred to be sled dogs. However, we have rehomed a couple of dogs who enjoyed dog mushing but did not have the stamina to run the longer distances. After the race I finished [the beginning of February], my entire team still had tons of energy and could have easily kept going.

Q. Your day job is that of an ER nurse. How do you maintain a successful work-life balance while still being able to pursue your passions?

A. As a nurse, I work four days straight and then have a few days off at a time that I dedicate to training. However, on days that my wife works, I make sure my kids get on the school bus, rush off to run the dogs, and then hurry back before they get home from school. On days that she is home, I get in our longer runs. I definitely would not be able to pursue this dream without her support.

Q. You’re also an avid ultra-marathon runner. How many races have you participated in? And is there any one race that stands out as your favorite?

A. I have run six races. Of those, Tushars 100k stands out the most, with its grueling mountain climbs. I ran it with my brother, and it took us 20 hours to finish. My hope is that my dogs and I are possessed by the same animating spirit that inspires us to run long distances.

Q.You and your family have built a ‘homestead’ here in Sandpoint. What’s an average day in the life of the Stephensen family look like?

A. We have a small flock of Icelandic sheep and currently care for a friend’s goats over the winter. We planted an orchard with a variety of fruit trees a couple of years ago and are hoping to harvest more fruit this year than last. We had to clear enough land to let the sun in before putting in a garden—gardening is something I have enjoyed ever since I was a teenager.

Q. What do you love most about being able to call Sandpoint “home”?

A. I love the community, the snow in the mountains, and the adventurous spirit that so many individuals have here.

Q.As you reflect back and look at where your life and choices have led you to today, what are you most proud of and thankful for?

A. I am most proud of raising two happy healthy twin boys, maintaining a strong marriage, building a house with my own hands, qualifying for Iditarod, and running ultra-marathons. I am thankful for the animating spirit that inspires me to get after dreams, thankful for family, a good job and good health.

I hope that in my journey to achieve my dreams that I inspire others to go after theirs as well.

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