Mushers give peninsula folks reason to cheer

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2005

Congratulations to Mitch Seavey of Sterling, Lance Mackey of Kasilof, Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, Tyrell Seavey of Sterling, Tim Osmar of Clam Gulch, Dallas Seavey of Sterling and Judy Merritt of Moose Pass. They are the ones who have represented the Kenai Peninsula in this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

As of this writing, Mitch, Lance, Paul, Tyrell and Tim have reached the desired goal — crossing beneath Nome's burled arch on Front Street. And they've done it in style. Mitch, Lance and Paul made their marks in the top 10, placing third, seventh and ninth, respectively.

Tyrell, in his second Iditarod, landed in a quite respectable 16th position. In his 20th race, Tim finished 19th.

Dallas was three-quarters of the way to the end in his first race, having reached Koyuk, nearly 1,000 miles from the start. He was in 51st and running a "puppy" team toward the finish.

Judy ran into her struggles early on in the race. A concussion suffered on the trail left the musher with headaches, and she scratched in Rainy Pass, 224 miles into the race. This was her third attempt at the race — and likely her last, she said prior to the start.

However, it doesn't matter who wins or loses sight of the finish line all together, there's still one thing that ties these seven people together and makes them unique: They have the spirit of true champions.

It takes a rare breed to traverse the rugged country of Alaska for days on end through sub-zero temperatures, screaming wind, icy trails and blinding and often deep snow. It's even harder to imagine it when the temperatures warm up, creating slush, open water and a sometimes rocky trail ahead. That was the case this year as the mushers made their way to the arch. Snow was brought in for the finish.

The athletes — both human and canine — put in long days, nights, weeks and months of training for this event. It isn't something they take lightly, nor do they do it on a whim. There's an incredible amount of training — physically and mentally — that takes place to prepare for such an event.

It isn't for the fainthearted, the wimps or the weak, and those who are standing alongside the trail or following the race via the Internet can only imagine what it is that drives the person behind the sled.

It could be the solitude, the scenery or the love of competition. Then again, maybe it's just tradition. The family ties from the peninsula run deep: the Seaveys, the Osmars, the Mackeys.

Whatever it is that compels the mushers, it no doubt has crept into their hearts and souls and dared them to take the challenge. And whether these people finished the race isn't the issue, it's that they even attempted to try. So much of life is about taking the first step.

Mushing isn't exclusive to Alaska, of course, but because of the Iditarod, we Alaskans tend to feel a special tie to it. We on the peninsula find the bond to be even tighter.

And it's OK that Robert Sorlie of Norway took the title this year. It was well deserved. However, with the showing Kenai Peninsula mushers made, it gives residents an added boost of pride, and all we can say is: We can't wait until next year to do it all over again.

''I was always worried about the other mushers. In the last three days I have slept one hour each night.'' — Robert Sorlie, after he crossed the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome on Wednesday.

"The trail was soft and punchy. We spent hours and hours and hours wallowing in deep snow.'' — Mitch Seavey, after finishing third in the Iditarod on Wednesday.

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