As an Iditarod musher, Jan Steves has weathered adversities few of us will ever know — minus-50 degree temperatures, and injuries suffered in the roughly 1,000-mile race. Off the trail, too, life has brought unforeseen tragedies.
The Edmonds native’s 31-year-old son, Tyler, died of a heart attack in June 2015. Later that month, a wildfire destroyed the Willow, Alaska, home that Steves shared with fellow musher Bob Chlupach.
Steves, 60, spoke about her experiences Wednesday at the 11th annual “Hope Within Luncheon,” a fundraiser for Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County.
“Without hope, I wouldn’t be here,” Steves told the crowd in a ballroom at Everett’s Xfinity Arena.
Steves showed photos of her dog-racing adventures that began over the winter of 2007-2008. An avid snow skier and hiker, she was seeking new challenges when she trained and raced in the three-day Cascade Quest Sled Dog Race out of Wenatchee.
Now a veteran of the Iditarod in Alaska, Steves first competed in the legendary competition in 2012. In that first Iditarod, Steves said she learned when the mercury fell to 50 degrees below zero that “we are so much more capable than we ever imagine.”
In her rookie year, she finished the trek in 14 days, 11 hours, 57 minutes and 11 seconds. That last-place finish earned her the coveted Red Lantern, a prize going to the final racer to make it to Nome. Again this year, she displayed that tenaciousness and spirit by racing in the Iditarod despite her terrible personal losses.
Steves, whose brother runs the Edmonds-based Rick Steves’ Europe travel business, didn’t finish the 2016 Iditarod. On the second day, she had to scratch the race at the Skwetna checkpoint after overturning her sled. “I broke four ribs and punctured a lung,” she said. She was hospitalized in intensive care and spent several months recovering.
Her keynote talk Wednesday culminated an event that included the somber remembrance of people who died in Washington last year as a result of domestic violence. According to statistics compiled by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the actions of abusers claimed the lives of 54 people statewide in 2015.
For the name of each victim shown on a big screen, someone brought forward a white snowflake ornament to hang on a tree at the front of the ballroom. An elderly woman shot by her husband, a 17-month-old boy shot by his father, and a young man killed by a man he was dating were among the victims.
Steves likened the help she and Chlupach received to rebuild their Alaska home with the community here supporting Domestic Violence Services. Along with operating a 52-bed emergency shelter for victims and children, the agency offers supportive housing, legal advocacy, support groups and prevention education.
During the luncheon, Karri Matau of the Community Foundation of Snohomish County spoke about Domestic Violence Services starting an endowment fund with the foundation, as more than 20 local agencies have done. Matau said the fund would be a way for people who care about the issue to “leave a lasting legacy.”
Vicci Hilty, executive director of Domestic Violence Services, thanked the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Everett Police Department for their work related to domestic violence. Hilty said local law enforcement vehicles will bear purple-ribbon magnets throughout October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Steves showed photos of all the helpers and preparation needed by mushers and their dogs. There are donations of dog food, volunteers delivering supplies along the race trail, and many more ways people in Alaska make the Iditarod happen. “Domestic violence victims need help and support too,” she said.
“You can come in last and be a winner. There is always hope,” Steves said. In March, she aims to race in the 2017 Iditarod.