Of all the Kenai Peninsula mushers entered in this year's Iditarod, Tim Osmar of Ninilchik is by far the most familiar with the trek from Anchorage to Nome. This will be Osmar's 20th run, and he still holds that same zest for the competition as he did in his first race.
Osmar was only 18 when he ran his first Iditarod in 1985 one year after his father, Dean Osmar of Clam Gulch, won the race.
His young age combined with being a rookie, some thought the young Osmar wouldn't be able to hold his own in such a grueling race. However, Osmar was no stranger to tackling tough situations head on, and he finished 13th, despite a fierce blizzard that caught many by surprise.
Working as a commercial fisher in summer for most of his life, Osmar had faced many challenges that would prepare him for the Iditarod.
To the casual observer, picking fish in an open dory in the black of night while six foot swells roll over him may not seem like it would be good preparation for standing on the runner of a sled being pulled behind 16 high-strung huskies for 1,100 miles.
However, they both require an internal fortitude to complete a task while enduring cold, hunger and exhaustion for days on end. And, it is this same fortitude that sees Osmar through to the burled arch at the finish line in Nome every year.
"There's been a lot of changes over the years," Osmar said, reflecting on his two decades of competition.
"The whole race is more organized and professional now, and there's a lot more competition now," he said.
"Now there's 25 to 30 really competitive teams, not five to 10 like it used to be. This year alone, there's 20 people that could all finish in the Top 10," he said.
Osmar knows firsthand about finishing in the front of the pack. From 1989 to 1997 he enjoyed a nine-year stint of placements in the Top 10, and in his past 19 Iditarods he has finished outside the Top 20 only once in 2003 when he was 22nd.
This year, he said he's hoping for another strong finish.
"Overall, the team is looking decent and I'm feeling pretty confident," he said.
"I feel like I've got to get top 20. I'd like to do Top 10 and it's not out of the question, but there are a lot of good teams out there, so anything is possible," he said.
"You just never know until you get out there."
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