KNIK, Alaska (KTUU) — The Iditarod trail is a proving ground for mushers and their dog teams. For the seventh time since 2013, musher Charley Bejna is putting himself and his dog team to the test.
“My dogs motivate me to take care of them, so then I have to care of myself,” Bejna said at his kennel in Knik, Alaska.
The 45-year-old musher is a Type 1 diabetic, and his journey to mushing's biggest stage hasn’t been easy.
Bejna was diagnosed with diabetes in his early 20s. He admits he wasn’t eating properly, was working a lot, and fast food was his meal of choice.
“I didn’t know anything about diabetes at the time,” Bejna said.
The diagnosis caught him by surprise.
“I was depressed for a little while, it didn’t show too much,” Bejna said. “You don’t want people to feel sorry for you, be a burden on someone, and get special treatment.”
In 1991, he took a trip to Alaska, and the mystique of the last great race caught his attention.
“When I first came up and I saw Iditarod, I was like 'I can’t do this, I’m diabetic.'”
Bejna would eventually meet Iditarod musher Bruce Linton, a fellow Type 1 diabetic, and was inspired to sign up.
The four-time finisher says he hopes to set an example for other people with diabetes.
“It’s a challenge on a daily basis,” Bejna said. “As long as you have a strong mind and have a good attitude about it, you can live a normal life.”
Bejna has never had an issue with his diabetes on the trail, and said he is always prepared with supplies in his sled. During the race, he has an insulin pump, glucose monitor, and packs lots of jelly beans in case his sugar levels get low.