Basketball, ice hockey, baseball, golf and tennis–at every level–have been cancelled because of the pandemic. Nobody knows when athletes and teams will be able to return to action.
But there’s one glimmer of good news for sports junkies. The biggest race of the year is underway and will not be cancelled — the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
There are 45 veterans and 12 rookies competing in the race, which started in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 7. The mushers hail from five states–Alaska, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin–and four countries: the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway.
The stakes are the highest in sled dog racing. Last year’s purse of about $500,000 was distributed between the top 20 finishers, with $1,049 paid to each additional finisher.
The almost 1,000 mile race, depending on whether the sleds are running on the north or south route, between Anchorage and Nome, runs annually in March. (The mileage is an estimation because the actual trail placement can vary from year to year based on conditions.)
This year’s race is following the Northern route and crosses two mountain ranges, including North America’s largest mountain range, the Alaska Range, and runs along the Yukon River and over the frozen Norton Sound.
Most people are unaware that this sport is so major that a dog drug testing program exists. With March Madness sidelined this year, now is the time to visit Iditarod.com and watch the race cam.
The object of the race is to determine which musher and dogs can cover the race in the shortest time under their own power and without the aid of others. The nose of the first dog to cross the finish line is the winner.
Last year, the Iditarod changed the number of dogs starting the race. Now, each musher can start with a maximum of 14 canine athletes and must have 12 on the line to start. A team can finish with as few as five sled dogs.
It’s a tough race so far, with mushers Linwood Fielder and Martin Massicotte dropping out at Ruby. Nils Hahn and Alan Eischens dropped out at Nicolai. Jeremy Keller dropped out at Rohn and Jim Lanier went out at Finger Lake. That leaves 51 mushers and their dog sleds vying for prizes.
Veteran Jessie Royer, 43, was the first musher at the Ruby checkpoint on March 13 (495 miles from Anchorage), which meant she won the Lakefront Anchorage First Musher to the Yukon Award, which consists of a five-course meal prepared by Lakefront Anchorage executive chef Roberto Sidro.
The menu features: Lobster bisque served with rosemary crostini; lackened spot prawns; roasted pear and aged gorgonzola tossed in an arugula salad with sherry vinaigrette; seared, marinated duck breast wrapped in bacon and drizzled with orange glaze served on a bed of lightly sautéed bok choy; espresso-rubbed, bone-in, ribeye steak with bourbon sauce, seared and flambeed, paired with roasted mashed celery root and sautéed baby carrots; and an “After Dinner Mint” of $3,500 in neatly stacked one-dollar bills along with a bottle of Dom Perignon.
Veteran musher Brent Sass of Eureka, Alaska, was the first musher to reach the Cripple checkpoint, the halfway point of the Iditarod Race (425 miles from Anchorage).
Sass, who was Rookie of the Year in 2012, will receive the GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award, which is either a new Samsung Galaxy S20 or $3,000 in gold nuggets.
Royer was the first musher to reach to reach Kaltag, with 13 dogs, on March 14 (629 miles from Anchorage). She will be awarded the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Fish First Award, which consists of 25 pounds of fresh Bristol Bay salmon filets, $2,000 cash, and a wood-burned art piece by BBNC shareholder artist Apayuq Moore.
Veteran Thomas Waerner, 46, of Torpa, Norway, was the first musher to reach the Unalakleet checkpoint (714 miles from the start) with 12 dogs in harness on March 15. He won the Ryan Air Gold Coast Award: $2,000 in gold nuggets from the Bering Straits region and Ryan Air merchandise.
His wife, Guro, is a veterinarian who plays a big role in maintaining their kennel’s quality of life, and they have five children: Herman 14, William 9, Alba 8, Alvar 6 and Frida 3.
Thomas runs an electrical company with 14 employees. When he’s not working or on the trails with his dogs, he says he enjoys “old muscle cars – especially Mustangs.”
He continued his lead and was the first musher to reach the Koyuk checkpoint with 12 dogs on March 16 at noon. At that point, Jessie Royer and Aaron Burmeister were second and third respectively. Mitch Seavey had moved up to fourth and Wade Marrs passed Brent Sass for fifth place. There are about 171 miles left to Nome.
At the checkpoints, mushers are provided with food drop bags, straw for bedding and HEET, which allows a team to be fed a hot meal as they continue to Nome. The next stop is Elim, about 48 miles from Koyuk.
CTN hopes to provide final results tomorrow, Tuesday. You may even be able to watch the action on Sports Center, given that they don’t have any live sports action to report each night.