Iditarod winner gets his own special day

Posted: Monday, April 05, 2004

There an old saying that "every dog has its day," but that saying may soon need to be amended to "every dog driver has their day" on account of Mitch Seavey.

On March 16, Seavey was the first to cross under the burled arch in Nome after nine days, 12 hours, 20 minutes and 22 seconds, thus fulfilling a goal and a dream he's had since he first started sled dog racing in 1964: winning the Iditarod.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley announced late last week that a day will soon be officially named after the musher who lives in both Seward and Sterling in honor of his win.

"To acknowledge the first Iditarod champion from the Kenai Peninsula in 20 years, I'm proclaiming April 24th as Mitch Seavey Day and inviting the community to join us for a special celebration that afternoon at the Soldotna Sports Center," said Bagley in a press release.

The event is being sponsored jointly by the Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce and coincides with the annual Kenai Peninsula Sports Rec and Trade Show.

"I think that it's way cool," Seavey said. "I'm not sure exactly what it means, but I'm glad everyone is excited for the win. It's gratifying to know that so many people are interested in the race and happy for us."

The "us" Seavey was referring to is the Seavey Racing Team Mitch, his wife, Janine, and their four sons who all pride themselves on their family oriented training and racing operation. Although they live in Sterling, the Seaveys also operate the Ididaride Sled Dog Tours in Seward, which has become a popular tourist attraction.

Seavey said after the race is over, it's always a busy time of year for him. In addition to trying to catch up on lost calories and hours of sleep, the musher has many responsibilities.

"I've been trying to get back to the normal things like training pups, getting breedings going and just still trying to make the kennel better," he said.

However, since returning home this year, Seavey also has had to contend with all the fanfare that comes along with winning. In addition to dealing with the media, the musher has been contacted by a myriad of groups, organizations, schools, family, friends and past Ididaride patrons.

"It's been overwhelming," he said. "Mushing is, by and large, a solitary sport. It's just you and the dogs out in the woods, so it's been a real adaptation to get used to it all."

People have been coming out of the woodwork to contact him. Seavey said he's even heard from his first-grade teacher, who, now at age 79 and living in Florida, still remembered his name and a few of his childhood traits.

"We thought it might only last a week, but it just won't stop," said Janine Seavey. "It's almost comical how the phone rings every five minutes."

For her, having a day named in honor of her husband has not only been the payoff for all the long days of hard work, but it also reaffirmed something she always believed: "Alaskans really do embrace this sport and they realize the difficulty and challenge involved," she said.

Janine added that the couple may even use Mitch Seavey Day to celebrate their anniversary, which actually falls on March 8.

"He's always on the trail during our anniversary, and I've always said we should pick another day to celebrate, so maybe this will be our new anniversary date," she said.

Like Seavey, the only other musher from the peninsula to ever win the Iditarod also had a day named in his honor. Dean Osmar of Clam Gulch secured the titled of champion in 1984 after 12 days, 15 hours, 7 minutes and 33 seconds of racing.

"Yeah, I remember when they named a day after me," said Osmar. Back in '84, Kenai Borough Mayor Stan Thompson and city of Kenai Mayor Tom Wagoner declared Dean Osmar Day on March 28. "I still have the plaque from that day on the wall with all the other dog racing paraphernalia."

Osmar said he was happy for Seavey's win.

"It's neat to have another winner from the peninsula, especially that it was exactly 20 years. Mitch worked hard to get it. He's run the race many years, many more than I did, so he deserves to be in the limelight. I think he'll be popular for a long time."

Osmar even called Seavey up in Nome within hours of finishing the race to congratulate him.

"Dean was as happy to see the peninsula brought back in focus as I was," Seavey said. "I appreciated what he said very much."

Both of the Iditarod victors will be in attendance at the Mitch Seavey Day proclamation event at the Kenai Peninsula Sports Rec and Trade Show. Seavey also will present a short program on winning this year's race.

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