Mitch Seavey, is accompanies by his wife, Janine, and sons Conway and Dallas as Mitch prepares to take his Iditarider on a dog sled tour of Anchorage during the ceremonial start of the 2004 Iditarod. Seavey went on to win the race nine days later.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
When Mitch Seavey won the 2004 Iditarod, he knew things were going to be different.
He began to notice the changes before he even left Nome. The media caravan covering the race that had barely mentioned Seavey even as he pulled ahead of the pack, suddenly flocked around him like gulls on a salmon carcass.
The change continued after his return to his Sterling home.
In addition to dealing with the media, the musher was contacted by a myriad of businesses, organizations, schools, family members and friends.
Some of the fanfare was flattering, such as when Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley proclaimed April 24 as Mitch Seavey Day in honor of his accomplishment.
Other events, such as when radio icon Paul Harvey referred to Seavey as a winner who was a 10-time loser, was comical, but not quite as flattering for the musher.
Seavey took the brightness of the limelight in stride, though, and a year later still proclaims that at his core he's still the same guy with the same values and the same belief in what's most important to him his family.
"If there's any value in any of this it's that people will get a glimpse of a functional family that can work together and be successful," Seavey said, referring to his wife, Janine, and their four boys Danny, 22, Tyrell, 20, Dallas, 17, and Conway, 8.
He attributes much of his success to being a parent and to his own parents Dan and Shirley.
"I was raised in a successful family. My mom and dad are still together and there's a lot of similarities between how I was raised and how my wife and I raised our own children," Seavey said.
Seavey, like his own four boys, was raised with mushing as a lifestyle. His father, Dan, not only was one of the people responsible for the Iditarod's inception, but also placed third in 1973, the inaugural year. He still serves the Iditarod board of directors as a musher representative.
"Family values are passed on from generation to generation," Seavey said.
One of the values he learned early on was the rewards of working hard.
"I went to public school, but I had a lot of chores at home. I use to have to chop wood, and I learned early on if I didn't split wood the house wasn't heated," he said.
That's not a negative reflection on Seavey's folks, though. They weren't putting the kids to work while the went off gallivanting around the countryside.
They, like Seavey, had chores of their own, which is another value that was instilled in him working together to complete a task or goal. It is this same philosophy he believes has made his racing kennel and sled dog tour business successful family affairs.
"Both businesses are bigger than any one of us, but we each have our role. We all built this together and the boys know this is as much their thing as mine," Seavey said.
Of course, the Seaveys' success didn't happen over night. Rather, it started from humble beginnings more than 10 years ago.
"When we started, it was just Janine and I and the boys," Seavey said.
He remembered back then he had only a fraction of the dogs he has now and some modest equipment, to say the least.
"I started out training with a free four-wheeler with no motor and no snowmachine. We couldn't have afforded to hire employees then, so family was critical. I couldn't be where I am now as a bachelor," Seavey said.
As to the tour business, Seavey said he would drive the carts, Janine did a lot of the talking and interacting with the public, and the boys had the less-than-glamorous job of scooping poop.
Times have changed since then. Working 18 hour days, often seven days a week, the Seaveys are starting to see the fruits of their labor. The businesses have grown. Equipment has been upgraded. New employees have been hired.
"Now I've got three four-wheelers, four snowmachines and there's a lot more infrastructure to the kennel," Seavey said.
He said his role in the tour business has been more advisory and less hands-on in recent years, while the boys have started to assume more responsibility.
Danny is gradually taking over as the business manager. Tyrell and Dallas have been working as tour guides, with Tyrell serving as the foreman of sled dog operations for the Seward business. He has eight employees working under him now.
According to Seavey, his wife Janine "does things none of us could do."
He explained she maintains a gift shop, oversees logistics, advertising, phone work, ordering, accounting and "a myriad of other small, but important details."
"We've grown into a complex operation and hired people, but family is just as critical now as it was then," Seavey said.
Also, since Seavey and his wife home-schooled their sons, the four boys learned a lot from the family business over the years.
Mitch Seavey leaves the starting chute of the 2005 Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
"Kids in the public schools can learn to just get by or to fail, but here that's not an option. There are no theoretical examples like in a classroom."
"They learn that the wrong measurement on a puppy pen means the puppies will get out. The wrong dimensions on a tug line means the team doesn't run right. It's just not the same as a red mark on a paper."
"The boys' education here was based on hands-on, practical, real-life situations and experiences. At the end of the day, they see there's a reason to doing things, and they realize they have to live with the results of their actions," Seavey said.
Of course, what father wouldn't boast that the choices he and his wife made were in the kids' best interest? Yet children rarely see things the way their parents do. But with the Seaveys there seems to be common ground.
"When I was 13 swinging a shovel full of poop, there were times when I swore I would live in Hawaii when I grew up. But, now that I'm older, I return every year to help with the business and, looking back, the responsibility of taking care of 60 to 70 dogs while growing up was a great experience," Danny said.
His brothers share a similar perspective.
"Sleds dogs have been a part of my life since my conception. Sure, it was a lot of hard work and there were times when stress was involved, but I'm 20 and still live at home and there's nowhere else I'd rather be, so I think that speaks for itself," Tyrell said.
"I think it's similar to a farm lifestyle," Dallas said. "I just get up and feed the dogs and do the chores. It's just what you do. I've done it since I was little. But, between that and my school work, I got a good education growing up."
"I saw the day-to-day application of what I learned and was taught things I could use the rest of my life being responsible, being dependable and having a good work ethic. They can't teach that at school in the same way, and it's stuff you need in life and to get a job," Dallas added.
This at-home education could lead some to believe the boys have little knowledge or interest in becoming anything but professional mushers, but they say that isn't true.
"Nothing has been forced or coerced. I encourage all the boys to get away from dogs for a while. Then if they come back to it, it's their decision," Seavey said.
Danny and Tyrell are both enrolled at the University of Montana. Danny has only one semester left before graduating with a degree in business management. Tyrell is continuing on an academic scholarship.
Their scholastic success isn't really a surprise to their father, who said, "After running the Iditarod, studying for a test is no big deal."
Dallas had a successful high school wrestling career and so, immediately after competing in this year's Iditarod, he leaves for the University of Northern Michigan on a wrestling scholarship.
"He's interested in Greco-style wrestling. His goal is to become an Olympic wrestler, and they have a developmental training program there, so that's the track he's on." Seavey said.
Before he ships off, Dallas, like all the family members, has been focusing efforts on this year's Iditarod in which Seavey, Dallas and Tyrell will compete.
This year is an alternate year so the trail will take the southern route. Seavey has historically done better on the northern route but is confident he'll have another strong race performance, regardless.
"My team this year is even better," he said.
Last year he said he had 13 core dogs and had to find three more in the lot to go with them. This year he's got 21 core dogs that will have to be narrowed to 16.
"Also, my 3-year-olds from last year are now 4," he said, meaning they are more mature and moving more into their prime racing years.
"I'm still humble, though. You can't predict the future. My team is looking awesome, but things could still go wrong," he said.
In any given year there's 20 people who all think they can win, but only one will, Seavey said.
He would like to be that one again, but if not, it won't be the end of the world.
"Everyone is completely committed and all of us are working toward the main racing team doing well, and we're all happy and grateful for winning and having a good team, but they're byproducts of what's really important family, close friends and close employees," he said.
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