Iditarod 46 winds up with awards and finisher’s banquet
The Iditarod family of mushers, volunteers, and everybody else filled Nome’s Rec Center gym Sunday night for the Last Great Race’s Nome finisher’s banquet. Over 600 people sat down to listen to the tales of the race, see the awards and the recipients, and hear the mushers’ “Thank yous” to sponsors, family, race officials, volunteers and their own dogs.
Nome’s John Handeland presided after the Strait Jackets warmed the crowd up a little with some fine bluegrass music.
The ceremonies began with a big cheer for all the mushers and a testimony to the contribution of Dee Dee Jonrowe with her career of 36 Iditarods.
“I see so much future out here!” said Jonrowe. “It’s my pleasure to see Joar as our champion.” She talked about the young mushers who were making their presence felt. “We have a lot of great drivers coming up.”
Handeland spoke of the Iditarod’s first winner, Dick Wilmarth of Red Devil. He won in 1973, “back when Alaska had a special license plate for Iditarod finishers.”
Howard Farley ascended the stage to talk about Wilmarth’s lead dog Hot Foot, to whom they awarded a golden harness. It will go to the Iditarod Museum.
“Let’s have a hand for lead dogs!” said Farley. “May we never forget how important they are.”
Now the army of volunteers was recognized and those present stood. There was enthusiastic applause. The corporate sponsors were recognized and they also stood and got applause. Junior Iditarod winner Bailey Schaeffer of Kotzebue was introduced and said a few words. And then it was time to present the awards for this year’s Iditarod.
The PenAir Spirit of Alaska Award goes to the first musher to reach McGrath and is awarded by PenAir CEO Danny Seybert. This year’s winner, Mitch Seavey, has won it before and graciously accepted the award from Seybert.
“This is beautiful, I know right where it’s going to go in the house,” said Seavey.
Next up was the GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award. A trophy and $3,000 worth of gold nuggets went to Joar Leifseth Ulsom.
“We all appreciate having these kinds of awards all along the race,” said Joar.
Nicolas Petit won the Lakefront Anchorage First Musher to the Yukon Award with the culinary team, which had prepared his gourmet meal on stage for the presentation.
“The check point prizes make the race a little bit more interesting,” said Petit.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation Fish First Award went to Nicolas Petit as he was the fist musher to reach Kaltag. He took home $2,000 in cash and will receive 25 lbs of fresh salmon filets. Petit commented that his dogs would be getting some salmon and John Handeland replied if the dogs are going to get the salmon then he would like to join Petit’s dog team.
The Northrim Bank Achieve More Award of $2,500 and a one of a kind print by Marianne Wieland was awarded to Leifseth Ulsom.
“We appreciate having you onboard and I hope we can all go and open an account there,” said Joar, the new Iditarod champion.
The Rookie of the Year Award went to Jessie Holmes, who finished in seventh position.
“I just want to honor this award to those dogs,” said Holmes. “They’re the ones who really deserve it.”
Kirsten Bey of the Nome Kennel Club presented the award for the fastest time from Safety to Nome to Nicolas Petit. His time of 2 hours and 9 minutes is the fourth fastest ever and Petit has won the award twice before. He accepted $500 and said “I think it’s really awesome that local mushers put this together for us.”
The Most Improved Musher Award went to Matthew Failor of Willow who finished 59th last year and 13th this year, an improvement of 46 places.
Scott Janssen won the Donlin Gold Sportsmanship Award for assisting fellow musher Jim Lanier who was in serious danger in the blowhole between Topkok and Safety. The crowd gave Janssen a large cheer.
“I’m truly touched,” said Janssen, who spoke of his long friendship with Lanier.
Jessie Royer won the Most Inspirational Musher Award, chosen by fellow mushers for the second year in a row. This year it was because she jumped on a snow machine to go to the aid of the stricken Lanier.
“I don’t feel too inspirational because I know most of us would have done the same thing. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Royer. The award pays the entry fee for next year’s race.
Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award, $1,049 inside a NAC jacket, went to Richie Diehl. NAC CEO Gideon Garcia said “There’s no traffic jam on the extra mile and Richie you’ve gone the extra mile.”
The mushers awarded Shaktoolik with the Golden Clipboard Award as the most outstanding checkpoint.
The prestigious Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award went to Aliy Zirkle this year. She was praised for her superior dog care throughout the race. To win the award a team must finish in the top 20. In Hollywood style Stuart Nelson Jr., DVM, the race’s chief veterinarian, explained the award and then pulled a sealed envelope from his pocket. He read Zirkle’s name and a big cheer went up from the crowd.
She made a speech acknowledging those who make the race safe for the dogs and added, “I want to give a big shout out to all those wonderful people who watch our dogs in the Nome dog yard.”
And finally the City of Nome’s Lolly Medley Memorial Golden Harness Award came up.
“The likes of Leonhard Seppala’s Togo, Rick Swenson’s Andy, and Susan Butcher’s Gladys are known wide and far through books and movies and in the classrooms around the world. The Iditarod lead dog continues to be celebrated today. They are at the core of a dog team’s success,” said Nome Mayor Richard Beneville. Ulsom’s dog Russeren was named as this year’s recipient and was brought up onstage. A 70-pound four-year-old, the dog has a no-nonsense air about him.
“Russeren is so powerful he amazes me,” said Ulsom, adding that they call him “The Russian Express. He’s really been a great dog to have and I look forward to having him many more races.”
And now the program came to words from each musher in turn, according to finishing place in the race. But before each mounted the stage they drew a 4-wheeler key from a jar held by a Northern Air Cargo employee. There was one key, which would turn on the Honda. So each musher got a chance to choose the right key.
Martin Buser, finisher number 28, stepped up to the podium.
“It took me a long time to get here and I finally figured out why,” said Buser. “ There was two of us on the sled. Some of you know that Art passed away. He was a former Iditarod judge and a multiple Iditarod finisher. A really good friend of ours who taught us a valuable lesson: enjoy it while you can. But more important Art always had a speech and I’m going to use the speech Art used every time he finished every race: Thank you very much!”
Jeff King, veteran of 28 Iditarods, 20 times top ten, and four times the champion stepped up.
“I actually had a really good trip and look forward to doing it again. I’d like to congratulate all the mushers ahead of me but especially Joar. I learned something from Joar. I realized I should be pronouncing my name ‘Yeff.’ And maybe that would work out good for me.”
Twenty-second place finisher Anna Berington gave thanks to all who made it possible for them to get three good dog teams out of their small kennel.
Hugh Neff of Tok finished 21st in his 14th Iditarod.
“Pretty cool to see all these young kids living the dream that I once had. Joar, you’re just an amazing kid. A third of my team has done 10 or more 1,000-mile races. I was rookie of the year a long time ago. It’s about sharing the love. Not just for the dogs, but sharing the adventure.”
Neff, originally from Chicago, had a Chicago Cubs pennent sewn on his sled and he carried it all the way to Nome.
Michelle Phillips finished 19th and said “I would like to thank my beautiful dog team for getting me to the finish line.” She also thanked many sponsors.
Kelly Maixner finished his seventh Iditarod in 17th place with a borrowed team.
“I’d like to thank Lance Mackey for his team,” he said. His daughter Rosie then sang a charming song, for which she was rewarded with a big response from the crowd.
Jessie Royer of Fairbanks finished 16th in her 16th Iditarod. She called the race more of a mental challenge. She travelled with Aliy Zirkle, one of her inspirations and heroes. “She’s a lot of fun,” said Royer. “I really appreciate her on the trail.”
Aily Zirkle of Two Rivers finished her 18th Iditarod in 15th place.
“My inspiration has always been my family, and will always be my family,” she said. “I want to thank the folks along the trail. The villagers. And they allow us to travel through their towns. Thank you so much for letting us travel through your world.”
Fourteenth place went to Ketil Reitan of Kaktovik, competing in his seventh Iditarod.
His son ran the Yukon Quest last month and he was able to start with 13 dogs that had been in the son’s team. They were well-prepared for this race, he said.
“They did much better than we had expected. And now they’re ready for another 1,400 miles back to Kaktovik.” He thanked Ulsom, who used to be his dog handler back in Norway.
“I’m so proud of you and I really appreciate the friendship we’ve had all these years. I’m very happy for you and proud of what you are doing.”
Matthew Failor, 13th place in his seventh Iditarod, had praise for his dogs. “I want you to know who the dogs are.” He then called out their 16 names.
Nomeite Aaron Burmeister finished in 12th place. “Welcome home to Aaron Burmeister,” said John Handeland.
“It’s good to be home and also to be back on the trail again after a few years off,” said Burmeister. “The southern route is always a tough trail and this year it was a challenge.”
“DeeDee has made a lifestyle around this race and been an inspiration to many of us,” he said “Fighting through cancer, finishing in the top ten multiple times.” At this, he suggested they give her a round of applause for all she’s done for the sport.
Rookie Matt Hall of Two Rivers finished 11th.
Lindwood Fiedler finished 10th in his 24th Iditarod. “Tim Muto did an amazing job this year running our puppy team. Anyone who saw those dogs come in, those yearlings, not even a year and a half old, coming in driving, happy, wanting to go. It was pretty amazing. My hat’s off to him.” Fiedler contrasted the conversation of female mushers to each other to male mushers to each other and got a good laugh from the crowd.
Travis Beals of Seward arrived ninth in his fifth Iditarod. “Me and these dogs have been through a lot over the years,” he said. “A lot of rough trails and it’s good to be back. I’d like to thank those dogs for always being there for me. They put a smile on my face every day I get to go out and say hi to them.”
Eighth place finisher Ramey Smith was not in attendance. He’s finished the race 22 times with 10 times in the top ten. Through a friend who spoke for him he asked for applause for the 15 mushers who did not finish the race.
Seventh place Jessie Holmes earned the Rookie of the Year award. “First and foremost I’d like to thank God,” he said. “I did a lot of praying for the safety of my dog team and the safety of others.” Then he thanked his mentors Bill Cotter and Jerry Riley.
Richie Diehl from Aniak was sixth and fellow musher Peter Kaiser of Bethel came in fifth in his 9th Iditarod.
Ray Redington Jr., finishing his 17th Iditarod, said “That damn Joar is going to win the 4-wheeler, too!” Redington thanked the volunteers especially. And he thanked all the vets.
“Maybe we’ll get this year’s 30 percent less checks back up to 50 percent more,” he said convincingly.
There were only three 4-wheeler keys left in the jar. Mitch Seavey, who finished third, tried the key he’d drawn. It worked! The 4-wheerl now belonged to Mitch Seavey.
Twenty-five Iditarods, 16 top ten finishes and three times the champion, Seavey knows the race. He thanked Northern Air Cargo for the 4-wheeler. He thanked his hosts in Nome, his mom and dad, his main sponsor and his handler.
“Kind of a stormy year for us in many ways and the race kind of capped that off,” he said. “So it felt natural, slugging it out out there. No matter what sort of things you go through what I’ve learned over the years, what’s come home more and more is the lesson these crazy dogs have been trying to teach me for decades. The dogs we associate with are so capable, and so understanding, so constant and dependable. They don’t worry about yesterday or last year. They don’t hold jealousies, they don’t carry forward fears, they just exist in the moment. They’re not really worried about tomorrow, they’re not apprehensive about the next race, they’re just happy right now. That’s a lesson I’d like to share with you so it resonates that right now what we have and right now we should enjoy and relish our lives.”
Nicolas Petit of Girdwood, a Frenchman, has finished eight Iditarods and has been five times in the top 10. Petit thanked a lot of people and firms.
“I want to congratulate my dogs of course, they’re fantastic. Thanks to Dee Dee Jonrowe for being everywhere. It’s nice to see her smile every place we go. The last part of my thank you’s is going to be a gift to you. Come on Jim!”
Up comes Jim Lanier.
“Nick asked me to come up here to sing a song. It has been my custom to prepare a song as I travel on the trail to here and I’ve always done that. I’ve always sung a song and I was afraid I wouldn’t get to do it this year because I met my end out there in the blowhole, as most of you know. So I wasn’t an official finisher. But thank you Nick for having me do this. The song this year is to honor the mushers who don’t make it to Nome.” He didn’t realize he would be in that group. “Dog Musher’s Lament” is the name of the tune.
“Have in mind the mushers who got hung up out there and didn’t quite make it,” said Lanier. He sang in a very nice voice to the tune of an old Stephan Foster song.
“I think he has enough songs now for a double album, maybe,” said John Handeland.
The final musher to approach the podium and speak a few words was 2018 Iditarod Champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway and Willow. He has started the Iditarod five times and finished in the top seven every time. He holds the record for the fastest rookie ever to finish the race.
“What to say?” he began. “It’s a real privilege to be part of this beautiful land, with so many beautiful, amazing people along the way. I want to thank everybody who takes their time to come out and help us. It’s a special event that goes back a long time in history. It’s just a real honor to be part of this. Thanks to the team around me, my girlfriend, all the people who helped me back home. All my sponsors, you know who you are. You’re going to get a hug from me later on. My dad is here. I had an awesome race running a very beautiful dog team. It was an amazing ride, tough and challenging, at times I didn’t think I was even going to make it here. It was a good race and I congratulate everyone who finished and to those who didn’t finish you’ll make it next year. Thank you all.”
And that wrapped up the 2018 Iditarod Awards Banquet.