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Seavey family pulls together to achieve Iditarod dream

Posted: Monday, February 26, 2001

STERLING -- Mitch Seavey was just a boy when he began chasing the dream of winning the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The dream began with conversations he overheard as his father Dan Seavey, Wasilla schoolteacher Tom Johnson, and ''father of the Iditarod'' Joe Redington, planned the first, 1,100-mile race to Nome in 1973.

Mitch Seavey said it didn't matter that his team consisted of just three dogs.

''Every time I'd be running dogs by our house I'd be imagining myself in the finish chute in Nome winning the Iditarod,'' he said.

Now with seven Iditarods under his belt, Mitch wants the dream to become reality, not only for himself but for his family where mushing is a family affair.

When the dog teams line up March 3 in Anchorage for the start of the 2001 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race there will be three generations of Seaveys racing: Dan Seavey, 63; Mitch Seavey, 41; and Mitch's 18-year-old son Danny Seavey. It is the first time three generations have competed in the same Iditarod, held each year to commemorate a run to Nome in 1925 to deliver lifesaving diphtheria serum.

''I'd like for them to observe firsthand that winning is not always for the other guy,'' said Mitch, whose best finish was fourth in 1998. He finished ninth last year.

Mushing mania in the Seavey family goes back to Dan Seavey. When he and his wife, Shirley, moved the family from Red Wing, Minn., to Seward in 1963, Dan Seavey bought his first Alaskan husky within a few months.

''You know what they say about the sins of the father. I just kind of started all this nonsense,'' he said.

When Mitch was little more than a toddler, he was helping care for the dogs. He used his wagon to carry food and water in two buckets to the dog lot.

''I remember feeding dogs when a mop bucket was more than I could carry,'' Mitch said.

Danny's feet were placed on the sled runners as soon as he was strong enough to grab onto the handlebars. He began mushing solo when he was 10. By the time he was 12, he was doing long trips and camping in the woods with his dog team.

Danny, who is competing in the 2001 Iditarod as a rookie, is content for now to train the puppies for his father's team.

''Most of the energy around here goes into making his team the best,'' he said.

When his younger brother Tyrell is ready to take over the puppy training, Danny hopes to have a competitive team of his own in the Iditarod.

Tyrell, 15, said he'll be ready to race in the Iditarod when he's 18, just like his older brother.

Dallas, 13, helps to care for the Seaveys' 80 or so dogs at their training facility in Sterling. He's been going on long-distance training runs with his father.

Even 4-year-old Conway isn't being left behind. He's been given a dog to pull him around on a child's sled. Last year, he accompanied his father on a 10-mile training run.

''He likes to run dogs,'' Mitch said of his youngest boy.

Mitch's wife, Janine, who along with Danny helps run the family business IdidaRide Sled Dog Tours in Seward, said being married to a long-distance musher could have been lonely, but it turned out to be fun.

''He has done a wonderful job of including all of us,'' she said. ''It seemed like everyone found their niche.''

The Seavey mushers agree they are expert enough now that they won't worry about each other during the race.

''We are pretty self-sufficient. We can handle it,'' Dan said.

The eldest Seavey should know. During the first race to Nome in 1973, 34 teams began the race and nearly one-third scratched. It wasn't too tough for Dan Seavey. He came in third.

''I never did think we wouldn't make it,'' the former high school teacher and wrestling coach said. ''We set out to make it.''

Dan Seavey's scariest moment came in 1974 when he encountered knee-deep overflow on the south fork of the Kuskokwim River. Overflow is when the water breaks through the ice, runs on top of it and freezes, creating another layer of deceptively thin ice.

''You sink down and you hope you will sink down onto the real ice. You hope you won't keep going down into the river,'' Dan said.

No sooner had he pulled his team to safety when the dogs took off after some bison and headed straight for the river again. The dogs would have pulled him back in, but his snow hook stopped them.

Mitch Seavey said his snow hook came in handy in 1996. He had missed a trail marker and was off the trail and on ice when the team headed for open water. He threw his snow hook around a tree limb stuck in the ice and stopped the team.

''I spun them around and went back to the trail,'' he said.

Mitch said a certain amount of risk comes with the race.

''If it is too easy, you'd have to do it again to do the real Iditarod,'' he said.

Given the danger, will the Seaveys worry about each other out on the trail?

Not likely.

''That guy is about as tough as they make 'em. If he has to walk he will make it,'' Danny said of his grandfather.

Mitch said Danny is the last musher on the trail he'd worry about.

''If there was one person that I needed to rescue me it would be him,'' he said.

Besides, it's usually the dogs that save the mushers from disaster and deliver them to the safety of the next checkpoint along the trail, Mitch said.

There have been times when he's succumbed to fatigue and fallen asleep while riding the sled.

''You can rely on your dogs. They just follow the trail,'' Mitch said. ''All I have to do is tie myself on and be there when they get there.''



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