Tuesday, June 25Welcome to Jamaica-Linc

The woman behind the Musher

The woman behind the Musher
When Jamaican Newton Marshall entered the mushing world in 2007, he became an instant sensation.
A tropical lad from a land where temperatures are almost always in the 80s, being thrust into the challenging Yukon Quest where the thermometer seems forever stuck below 45 degrees, is a study in determination and courage. He was the first Jamaican to qualify to run in that race and he placed 13 in a field of 29 competitors.

Newton Marshall crowd favourite

Mushing is a sport in which man and dog develop a deep connection. The Yukon Quest involves steering a team of dogs, training, feeding and caring for them, while being battered by wind, and encountering frozen creeks in the wilderness of North-west America between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Canada.
But Newton who is always up for a challenge entered the famed Iditarod dog-sledding race through some 1,100 miles of Alaskan terrain in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. Known as the Last Great Race, the Iditarod is a race across tough terrain which spans mountain ranges and dense forests.
Working at Chukka Caribbean Adventures in St. Ann, Newton moved from being a gardener to tour guide and then dog-sledding with tourists. Newton loves dogs and they love him back. So when his boss Danny Melville decided to create a dog-sled racing team with the lofty ambition of competing in international races, Marshall was a logical pick. Mr. Melville supported his participation in the Yukon Quest and other international races.
What makes Newton’s achievements even more remarkable is the fact that when he began this journey he could not read. His time as a student at the Runaway Bay primary school was not very productive. However, he got a second chance when a Chukka neighbour decided to teach the workers to read and write.
Remarkably, when Newton landed in Yukon territory in freezing weather in November 2007, a world away from St. Ann where he grew up, he was prepared mentally. Much has been written about the people who influenced him but little is known about the person responsible for holding his hand for six months as he prepared for this new experience.


Mary Helen Reece, tourism consultant, had been rolling out her customer service training programme for workers in the industry for decades. Her clients included tour guides and drivers. Newton, a man with a ready smile and an easy manner, came to her attention at Chukka. She taught him the rudiments of customer service but she did much more for him.
Newton well remembers her patience as she went through the course with him. Mrs. Reece, a trained teacher in early education, researched the Yukon Quest, collecting data and photos from social media and other sources, over many months.
“Newton was a great learner. He was trained by memorizing each trail, the miles between and what difficulties he may encounter,” remembers Mrs. Reece.

Mary- Helen Reese got Newton ready for competition

She identified the stops, noted the mileage between stops, described the terrain, cautioned him about dangers lurking in the wilderness, a frozen lake there, a precipice there, all of which she captured in a book for him.
They developed a motto, “Never Give Up” and were encouraged by the prescriptions contained in the book: “The 7 habits of highly effective people”.
Newton arrived in the Yukon with his personal power- point booklet, which he read five days a week for four hours over six months. Indeed, when persons mockingly asked him how he was going to attempt this feat of competing in such tough conditions, he assured them that he already knew the course.
Speaking of Mrs. Reece and her late husband Raymond, Newton said, “she is a very nice lady and Mr. Reece too.” He explained that after all the applause had ended, and the reality of broken promises left him disillusioned, it was the Reeces who embraced him and provided him with his plane ticket to return to the USA.
Like a mother lovingly describing her child, Mrs. Reece called Newton “an angel” pointing to his admirable qualities such as persistence, kindness his appetite for learning.
Though Newton does not have much to show for his mushing achievements, promises of a house and land having evaporated, he is not a man who is easily daunted. He continues to embrace his Youth Musgrave award, as proof of his perseverance and the fact that he brought glory to his island home.
He has been a tour guide, painter, videographer, motivational speaker and security officer. Lately he has been volunteering as a fireman in Minnesota.
Are his mushing days behind him? Perhaps, because it is an expensive sport that depends on substantial sponsorship and he has been unable to raise funds on his own.
One thing though, the mushing world will not soon forget the man with the captivating smile from sunny Jamaica.

5 Comments

  • Kay Osborne

    This story is inspiring on so many levels. It shows how courage and perseverance can win out against all odds and the lasting impact of effective support. Also, the writer’s compassion and joy in writing the story shines through as well. Kudos to all .

  • Njeri Reece

    This is truly Amazing thank you for so much I can speak as Mrs. Reece is my mother. Mom has helped inspired Many of her tour guides and bringing out the best out of all of them including Newton Marshall. Thank you for honoring my amazing Mom.

  • Joan Richardson

    This is such an Inspiring story. His Jamsicaness shined trough.Many thanks to Mrs. Reese with a heart of gold.

  • Daughn

    Kudos to Mary Helen and Newton for his achievements. Wishing him every success as he continues his journey.

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