Musher-helper ships tamales for Iditarod

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 1, 2010

EDWARDS — For only the second time in the last decade, Jean Blakeney of Edwards won’t be volunteering this year at Alaska’s famous Iditarod sled dog race.

From thousands of miles away, though, Blakeney is helping the 2010 event achieve a distinction: It will be the first Iditarod in which a participant snacks on Solly’s famous hot tamales from Vicksburg.

Blakeney has had five dozen tamales shipped from the 1921 Washington St. restaurant to Mike Suprenant, one of the 71 “mushers” who will race teams of 12 to 16 dogs across the Iditarod’s 1,150-mile course starting March 6.

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Blakeney said she’s known Suprenant since 1999, the first year she volunteered for an Iditarod. Suprenant had asked her to stay at his house in Chugiak, Alaska, during the 2009 race, to care for the dogs that he didn’t take to the Iditarod. 

When Blakeney asked if Suprenant would like any food from Mississippi for stops during the race, he asked for hot tamales.

“The first thing I thought of was Solly’s,” Blakeney said.

Solly’s owner, Dean McCain, said she’s shipped tamales as far away as Hawaii and regularly gets customers from as far as Australia, France, Ireland and Japan.  But this was the first shipment to the 50th state.

Blakeney began working Iditarods after meeting Jon Van Zyle, the event’s official artist, at a party in Pascagoula to which she had taken pictures of huskies that she raised. The dogs subsequently served as the subject of a Van Zyle painting, and the artist suggested that Blakeney volunteer at Iditarods.

Blakeney has worked both in Anchorage, helping care for dogs who couldn’t complete the race, and at checkpoints in the field, communicating information about the race’s progress back to Iditarod headquarters.

Because she has degenerative disc disease, Blakeney missed her first Iditarod since 1999 last year after undergoing spinal fusion surgery in 2008.  Last July 4, she tripped over a water hose in her yard and cracked her right hand and left foot. A later doctor’s visit revealed that she had torn the tendons and ligaments in her left foot and heel.

Still, she wanted to go to this year’s Iditarod. “They were going to try to have my foot ready,” she said.

Blakeney also has heart trouble. In November, she suffered a double bilateral pulmonary embolism. Her dreams of making the Iditarod ended. “After the embolism, the doctor said I just couldn’t go,” she said.

Since, Blakeney has been recuperating at the Askew Ferry Road home of her mother, Dorothy Brasfield. On her wall is a reminder of the Iditarod, the official Van Zyle print marking this year’s race.

After learning of Blakeney’s illness, Van Zyle sent the print to her before it was released, Blakeney said.

“Jean — You’re the first on your block to have this,” the inscription reads.  “Hope you’re feeling better.”

Blakeney wants to make it back to the Iditarod next year and perhaps to Alaska before that. The race stages a volunteers’ picnic in June that she never attended “because I couldn’t afford to go to Alaska twice a year. I would love to make it this year.”

Contact Ben Bryant at