JOSEPH - It was almost by accident Laura Jaap got on a dog sled two years ago, and now she's on a course to brave the Iditarod in 2009.

But sweeping life changes have become the norm in her life.

"Before my first race, I'd never been on a sled," said the 53-year-old mother of four. "But the boys talked me into getting on one and I did and I came in third. I was as surprised as anyone."

It was her adventurous spirit that prompted Jaap to make the first trip after years of working with other people's dogs.

Last year she made the trip to another race, this time to Eagle Cap, but was reliant on her dog sledding friends to get her on the trail.

"I didn't have anything," Jaap explained. "One guy gave me dogs, one guy gave me a sled, and someone else gave me equipment - and that's what I love about this sport. Everyone helps out and has a big heart."

Jaap had been around dog sledding as a handler for a long time before trying the mush, but as soon as she did, she decided to aim for an Iditarod run by the age of 55.

A finish in the world-famous 1,000-mile race would go along nicely with other seemingly non-sequential accomplishments, such as performing in the London Ballet in 1972, nearly scaling Mt. Everest in 1978, and spending almost 20 years raising exotic animals such as zebras, bighorn sheep and big cats on a reserve near Hood River.

Currently in the middle of a move back to Montana where she grew up, Jaap is now focused on the goal at hand and enjoying the current place in her life.

"She doesn't come to races to kick butt or anything, she comes to races because of her love of dogs and people around her," said Bend musher Justin Harris. "She's got a great personality when it comes to dogs, and she knows how to train them."

This year Jaap will compete in the eight-dog, 100-mile trek at Eagle Cap with her own sled and team of dogs, a first in her mushing career.

But for the world traveler, it's still all about the animals.

"No amount of money can make you give up the love of the dogs," she said. "I don't know one (musher) who wouldn't give their life before a dog. Most people don't understand that when they see the sport, but it's true. It's a fallacy to think we'd put the animals in harm's way."


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