Alaskan musher on the verge of becoming the best in Iditarod history | Radio WGN 720

TALKEETNA, Alaska (AP) Dallas Seavey is poised to become the greatest mushing champion of all time, but he’s also confident enough to say win or lose, this year’s race through Alaska will be his last – at least for a while.

The defending champion who turned 35 on Friday is tied with Rick Swenson for the most wins in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, with five. Swenson, a 71-year-old known as the king of the Iditarod, won his titles between 1977 and 1991 and last ran the world’s most famous sled dog race in 2012, the year Seavey won his first.

Seavey gets his chance to make history at the 50th running of the Iditarod, which kicks off in Anchorage on Saturday. First run in 1973, the nearly 1,000 mile (1,609 kilometer) race takes mushers and their teams of dogs through the unforgiving terrain of Alaska, including two mountain ranges, the frozen Yukon River and the treacherous ice of the Bering Sea to end in the old gold rush town of Nome on Alaska’s west coast.

“I’m really happy with this race. You know, it’s a big deal for me,” Seavey told The Associated Press last week from his home in Talkeetna, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Anchorage. “It’s a big blow for the Iditarod.”

Seavey grew up around mushing and her family tradition is rooted in racing. His grandfather Dan Seavey raced in the very first Iditarod and still does recreational mush today in his 80s. Dallas father Mitch won titles in 2004, 2013 and 2017.

But if Dallas Seavey doesn’t win his sixth crown this month after also winning in 2014, 2015 and 2016, he’s not quite sure how many races he still has in him.

He said he was hesitant to even race this year. Growing up in the sport, Seavey said he saw how people ran the race year after year almost out of habit or a sense that they had to.

Seavey said what wears down athletes is that they don’t feel like they have the opportunity to leave. He said he thought it was time for him to exercise that option.

“I’m still excited about mushing, maybe more than before. I want to keep growing as a musher, but Iditarod is just one way for us to be a musher,” said Seavey, who also operates a mushing tour business in Talkeetna.

The single father said he wants to spend time with his daughter, who will be 12 in a few months.

“I’ve had so much fun with her the past two years where we’ve spent a lot of time, just one-on-one, doing stuff, having fun or just living life, hanging out,” a- he declared.

“Once she gets out of the house or has more of her own life and daddy isn’t so cool, I’ll probably be back into mushing, but I’m not going to make that commitment now,” Seavey said.

Seavey said he was “not stupid enough” to say he was retiring.

“We don’t need to make a statement or a big announcement or proclamation,” he said.

Instead, he adheres to the concept of living one year at a time.

“I feel like it’s the last for a while,” he said. “Let’s go through this one.

The departure ceremony returns to Anchorage after being canceled last year due to the pandemic. The purpose of the Iditarod is not to transmit COVID-19 to residents of villages that serve as race checkpoints along the long trail to Nome.

The mushers, who must be vaccinated to participate, will be isolated from the public, which means that beyond shouting over a fence, fans will not be able to interact as they normally would with the mushers during the ceremony of start or restart of the competition the next day in Willow, about 121 kilometers north of Anchorage.

There are 49 mushers in this year’s race, including former champion Martin Buser, a four-time winner running in his 39th Iditarod, 2019 champion Pete Kaiser and 2018 winner Joar Leifseth Ulsom. Another former champion in contention is Seavey’s father, Mitch.

Fifteen mushers withdrew, including 2020 champion Thomas Waerner from Norway. He won the race just as the pandemic was taking hold. Due to travel bans, he was stuck in Alaska for months trying to get home and was finally able to hitch a ride on a vintage plane that was going from Alaska to a museum in Norway.

But now he thinks the fact that he didn’t officially sign out of the US and traveled when authorities told him to wait cost him dearly because he wasn’t allowed to travel. in the United States this year. “Iditarod will help me get a sports visa so I can travel next year,” Waerner told The Associated Press via Facebook Messenger. “It’s not a good feeling not to race the 50(e) Iditarod.”

Musher Nic Petit pulled out of the race on Wednesday after posting on Facebook that he “just couldn’t dodge COVID.” Race officials have confirmed that four-time champion Jeff King will race in Petit’s place. King last ran the race in 2019.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals remains the race’s biggest critic. The organization has targeted major sponsors of the race and scored a victory this year when a hotel in Anchorage, home of the race for three decades, said it would end its association with the Iditarod the next year.

Officials at the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel blamed the change on the effects of the pandemic on business, but the decision was announced by its owners, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, a day before PETA planned to protest outside the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel Chicago.

Rhonda Schafner, a researcher at Associated Press in New York, contributed to this report.

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