One racer in Alaska's fabled Iditarod sled dog race is battling more than the elements this week.
Mike Williams, an Eskimo musher, also is fighting alcoholism. Williams, 39, is a recovering alcoholic who has lost three brothers to alcohol-related accidents or suicide. He is dedicating his Iditarod run to the cause of sobriety for Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos.
During the race, Williams is carrying the names of hundreds of people who signed sobriety pledges to support his effort. Hundreds of people also contributed about $9,000 to assist him in his Iditarod run.
In recent years, two of Williams' brother died in snowmobile or boating accidents that were alcohol-related. One committed suicide. Unfortunately, his experience isn't unusual. Alaska's Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse says the suicide rate for Alaska Native males is up to eight times the national average. For males between the ages of 15 and 24, it's as high as 14 times the national rate.
``There are a lot of tragedies,'' Williams said. ``We as Native Americans deserve to live a long, good life.''
The problem is great among Alaskan natives, but they certainly aren't the only Americans at risk. Williams is doing both his state and his people a service by calling attention to a serious and tragic problem.
If only a few of the hundreds of people whose names Williams is carrying learn to live without alcohol, his certainly will be the winning entry in this year's Iditarod regardless of when he crosses the finish line.