February 17, 2015, Day 10 of the Yukon Quest: rookie musher Damon A. Tedford, MD, Bib #7, and his sled dog team are closing in on their next checkpoint, Two Rivers. “It was just before dawn,” Dr. Tedford said. “We were coming up over a summit and there were four teams ahead of us. It was dark and the night was still with no wind. I started to see signs that we were getting closer to the team in front of us. The dogs probably smelled that team before I could see the headlamp of the musher ahead of us. At one point, we were all working together to get over Rosebud Summit.”
“He was mastered by the sheer surging of life…expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars.”
–Jack London, The Call of the Wild
To help the dogs maintain their speed, he ran and pushed the sled rather than standing on the runners. “We were all sweating together, and you could only hear our breaths as we worked to close the distance with the musher ahead of us. It was almost as if we were hunting as a pack,” he said. “It was incredible, a magical experience.”
It’s a thousand miles from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, and during the 10-day Yukon Quest, mushers experience numbing cold, sleep deprivation, and hunger. These are the conditions which Dr. Tedford, an emergency physician at Surrey Memorial Hospital in Vancouver, BC, had been training for since last October. Running the sled dog race in February delivered exactly what Dr. Tedford had hoped it would: the opportunity to challenge himself. From his experiences in the military and as an ultra-marathon runner, he understood that physical challenge leads to a satisfying sense of accomplishment. “When you push yourself to your limit and get to the point where you don’t think you can go any further, you just feel energized by it,” he said.
His training and determination paid off. At the end of that early morning, six-hour run to Two Rivers, his team overtook the other team. He was on track to secure fourth place and won Rookie of the Year honors.
Attraction to Medicine
Seeking challenge appears to have been a guiding principle in the 37-year-old Dr. Tedford’s career choices as well. He joined the military after high school, graduated from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, and served five years with the First Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. His last deployment, as a light armored vehicle captain, was in 2006 to Kandahar, Afghanistan. “I got into the army because I wanted to help people and I wanted to be challenged,” he said. During his tours in Afghanistan, part of the mission was to form liaisons with local police officers, heads of families, and community power brokers. Where he and other soldiers had difficulty trying to make connections with local populations and authorities, Dr. Tedford observed that medics and physicians were able, “in the blink of an eye,” to establish trust as they came to the aid of locals in need of medical attention. That ability to quickly foster trust was a quality that led him to consider a career in medicine when he finished his military service.