- 25-year-old Dallas Seavey becomes youngest musher to win Iditarod
- Sixty-six race entrants, ages 25-74, with teams of 16 dogs began Alaska challenge
- Iditarod, billed by organizers as "The Last Great Race on Earth," spans nearly 1,000 miles
Proudly beating his father and grandfather to the Iditarod finish line, 25-year-old Dallas Seavey can now claim bragging rights in Iditarod history -- becoming the youngest winning musher in the race's 40-year existence.
Seavey arrived in Nome Tuesday, completing the near 1,000 mile race in 9 days, 4 hours, 29 minutes and 26 seconds. Seavey's nearest competitor was Aliy Zirkle, who was more than an hour behind.
The "Iditarod Insider," which provides online video coverage throughout the race, caught up with Seavey as he left one of the final checkpoints along the trail.
"The Iditarod has been built up throughout my life to be such a huge thing, you know. I've spent literally my entire life since I was 5 years old training teams for the Iditarod, so to be here now in this position is something of ... definitely a larger-than-life experience," Seavey told the Iditarod Insider.
Seavey is quick to give the credit to his dogs, proudly boasting about a finishing team of nine Alaskan huskies, which he describes as "rockin' and rollin," showing no signs of fatigue after more than nine days on a tough trail. "I have never had so much fun mushing dogs ... and it's not been because we've been in front or winning, it's because these dogs have been doing awesome," Seavey told the Iditarod Insider.
The Iditarod, billed by organizers as "The Last Great Race on Earth," spans nearly 1,000 miles of daunting and formidable Alaskan terrain. This year's race included 26 checkpoints from Anchorage and Nome, with mushers facing near-record snowfall at various points on the trail.
State officials, including Gov. Sean Parnell, congratulated Seavey on his win. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said, "His historic milestone today is hopefully only the beginning of a long and successful career in the sport of dog mushing. This year's Last Great Race is just the latest chapter for the Seaveys."
Sixty-six race entrants, ages 25-74, set off behind their teams of 16 dogs, all hoping to reach Nome's finish line first. Dogs who are unable to complete the race may be dropped with veterinary staff at checkpoints along the route, but in order to win the race, at least six dogs must be in harness as the musher and sled cross the finish line.
The Iditarod is a challenging feat that typically takes between nine and 17 days to complete, and many competitors find mere survival on the trail can be challenging enough. This year, more than 10 teams have already voluntarily scratched for various reasons or been withdrawn by race officials because of injury.
Seavey is a third-generation musher and no stranger to athletic competition in Alaska, despite his youth. Seavey is a household name in competitive mushing circles as well as on the wrestling circuit. Known for his competitive spirit and fierce determination, Seavey was High School Championship wrestler, a former National Wresting Champion and Junior World Team wrestler. He spent a a year training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center before an injury sidelined his wrestling career and sent him home to Alaska to focus on mushing.
"I have always been competitive," Seavey said at the start of last year's Iditarod. "I am going to stay competitive one way or the other ... so, now I am a dog racer." Seavey grew up helping his father train dog teams at his kennel in Seward, Alaska. He had previously competed in the Junior Iditarod as a teen, and at age 18 (plus one day) was the youngest musher to enter the Iditarod Sled Dog race, which requires entrants to be 18.
After many impressive long-distance showings, Seavey proved his mettle as a championship contender in mushing by winning the grueling and intensive 1,000-mile Yukon Quest in 2011. The Yukon Quest runs between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska, each February, following the Gold Rush and mail delivery dog sled routes from the turn of the 20th century.
"The Quest," as it is known to Alaskans, is similar in length to the Iditarod but has less than half the checkpoints, requiring mushers to be far more self-sufficient for much longer distances along the trail.
The Seavey family has an extensive history in the Iditarod race.
Dan Seavey, Dallas Seavy's grandfather, was a competitor in the first Iditarod in 1973, when he finished third. The elder Seavey, now 74, calls himself "an Iditarod junkie."
While not considered a contender, Dan Seavey entered the Iditarod this year to emphasize the Iditarod National Historic Trail's centennial. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin designated January 2008 to October 2012 as the official National Historic Trail Centennial, in commemoration of the 2,300-mile system of winter trails that first connected ancient Native Alaskan villages and eventually opened Alaska to the Gold Rush. The trail is now managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Seavey's father, Mitch Seavey -- a four-time Iditarod champion himself -- is competing for a spot in the Iditarod's Top 10 this year and thus missed seeing his son cross the finish line. Dallas Seavey's youngest brother, 15-year-old Conway Seavey, won the Junior Iditarod last month, his first win in that 150-mile race.
While the 2012 Iditarod will officially go down in the history books for securing its "youngest champion" along with a Seavey family footnote, the "family tradition" of mushing is certainly not unique.
There were three other sets of family members also racing in the Iditarod this year.
Four-time champion Martin Buser of Big Lake, Alaska, is still on the trail with his 22-year-old son, Rohn, who was named after an Iditarod checkpoint. Brothers Ramey and Cim Smyth, sons of Iditarod veteran "Bud" Smyth, are also tough competitors this year. Ramey Smyth is expected to finish in this year's top five. Mushing toward the back third of the pack, identical twin sisters, 28-year-olds Kristy and Anna Berington, have not been out of each other's sight since the start in Willow.
Kristy Berington is a race veteran, but Anna is mushing in the Iditarod for the first time.
Acknowledging the race is considered to be "Alaska's Super Bowl," Kristy Berington said it's still a friendly event in her family. "We're comrades before competitors. We're there to help each other out. I want us both to finish," she said at the start of this year's race.
"Me, too," said her sister, "It's something you just have to love with all your heart. You can't just be halfway committed."
For Seavey, the commitment is 365 days a year. In 2009, he moved nearly 200 miles north from his family home in Seward to Willow in order to start his own dog team and year-round training kennel.
He also is the owner of "WildRide Sled Dog Rodeo," a sled dog show for Anchorage visitors. The profits help fund and grow Seavey's kennel year-round.
Seavey, having reached the burled arch-marked finish line on Nome's Front Street, can now officially stake his claim as the youngest Iditarod champion in history, besting five-time winner Rick Swenson's record by one year.
Surprisingly, however, Seavey has never been focused on his age as a competitive factor, telling CNN last year, "I feel as much camaraderie with the 50-year bracket as the 20-year bracket.. .. We are all just mushers out here."