The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

Genoa native Evelyn Wakulenko has been living in Anchorage, Alaska, for 11 years, and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I love the mountains and the ocean," said Wakulenko (pronounced Walk-a-link-o).

"It's a little more adventurous style of living. I like being close to the outdoors and I like the distance from the chaos of the lower 48 (states). We don't have any billboards here, which I really appreciate.  I like the native people - the different cultural aspect is unique about living in America."

A 1991 graduate of Genoa High School,  Wakulenko graduated from Bowling Green State University and the Medical College of Ohio School of Nursing in 1996. She then moved to Utah, where she worked at the University of Utah Hospital.

"In Utah, I got into adventure sports," Wakulenko said. "My sports ultimately brought me to Alaska, and there were a lot of nursing jobs here."

Wakulenko has worked at the Alaska Native Medical Center as a registered nurse since 1998. She worked in the emergency room and has been in the cardiology department for the past five years.

Last month, she participated in the Serum Run '25, a dog team journey with snow machine (snowmobile) support across 768 miles of Alaska's frozen rivers, tundra and sea ice from Nenana to Nome.

The mission of the annual event is to commemorate the 20 men and their dog teams who relayed crucial diphtheria serum to Nome, and to widen the awareness throughout Alaska of the need for inoculations for every child and to stress important health issues such as immunizations, medical exams, cancer screening, HIV awareness, and drug and alcohol abstinence.

Mushers and their snow machine partners, along with more than 150 sled dogs, annually retrace the route of the original Serum Run. The teams stop at each village and school along the trail to rekindle the spirit of the Serum Run by bringing a message to school children and their parents regarding the need for inoculations, awareness and making healthy lifestyle choices.

The 2009 Serum Run left Nenana Feb. 22 and was to arrive in Nome on March 12. The event, however, had to be canceled on March 2 after a snow machiner from Nome went missing. (He was later found. ) Soft, but armpit-deep snow made the trails impassable.

"We went to the first stop, a village in Nenana," Wakulenko said. "Then we hit Beaver Point and then got to Manley and got delayed there because a snow machine broke down. The snow machines 'break' the trail and carry all the gear. When we left Manley, the weather had been great and then we started to get some (bad) weather. It kept snowing and snowing, and blowing.

"My buddy, Kent, got stuck and when he stepped off his snow machine it was waist- to chest-high with fresh snow. We had maybe 500-600 pounds of gear. Pulling that type of load, the machines couldn't get through and we kept getting stuck. The musher coordinator flew the mushers with their dogs ahead because the dogs couldn't make the mileage punching through the snow without injury to them. The snowmachiners would catch up, but it was impossible.

"We had people try to break trail for us, but it wasn't happening. Some of the locals said they hadn't seen that much snow on the Yukon River in 20 years. One guy didn't show up in Ruby and they sent out a search and rescue. It was good that we got delayed, because we probably would have been involved in that."

Wakulenko, 35, was part of a medical mission team that was going to teach stroke awareness at schools and clinics along the Serum Run trail.

Her team consisted of 21 people - eight mushers and 13 snow machiners - who transport equipment, camping gear, food and straw for the dogs.

She said she was disappointed the Serum Run had to be canceled but, "It was still a good adventure. I got to see a couple villages and clinics and I got to see what the dog mushing experience was like. We got to see how you work as a team. I really wanted to see these villages where my friends and co-workers are from. I was more disappointed in that aspect. I actually had people in villages waiting for me to come see them."

Wakulenko might participate in next year's Serum Run, but in the meantime she plans to take advantage of all the outdoor activities Alaska has to offer.

"I got a great job here and I stayed," she said. "I'm always looking for a new adventure."

She is the daughter of Anatoli and Annette Wakulenko, of Billman Road.