Welcome Iditarod Nation to our 51st race. As I write this, we are in full race mode preparing for challenges both known and unknown. We are thrilled to be coming out of the last 3 years of navigating through the pandemic and returning to Shageluk, Anvik, Grayling and Eagle Island for the first time since 2019. I am sure this race, like its 50 predecessors, will generate numerous “Tails from the Trail.”
In my career, I have been fortunate to have a front row seat at athlete celebrations for multiple Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, Olympic gold medals, NCAA Final Fours, and numerous endurance event championships but I think of no event that is comparable to the Iditarod. A life changing journey through the off the grid Alaskan wilderness, 1,049 miles self-reliance, storms, water, snow, ice, wind, strategy and competition. Iditarod mushers are extraordinary homo sapiens; tenacious adventure athletes, part Magellan, part meteorologists, savvy strategists, sleep deprived ninjas, soulful dog whisperers, and 100% Iditarod tough through and through.
Yes, we have a smaller than normal field this year but make no mistake, every Iditarod is deserving of the “epic” adjective. How will Brent Sass do as a returning champion? Will Pete Kaiser return to his winning form? How will the emotional bonds play out with the Berrington sisters and the father son duo of Greg and Bailey Vitello? We also have no fewer than 12 other mushers with top ten finishes including Wade Marrs, Mille Porsild, Richie Diehl, Travis Beals, Jessie Holmes, Jessie Royer, Aaron Peck, Ryan Redington, Mike Williams, Jr., Nicholas Petit, Dan Kaduce and Matt Hall.
South Africa’s Gerhardt Thiart and Nome’s Bridgett Watkins are back at another shot for the coveted finisher’s belt buckle after the storm near White Mountain last year left them with unfinished business. In addition to the Vitello’s, Gerhardt and Bridgett, there are 5 other rookies that have collectively been dreaming about the Iditarod for probably over 50 years to join the current list of 823 humans that have made it to the finish in Nome. (To put this in perspective, over 32x as many people have played in the NFL and 8x more people have summited Everest).
In a world that is increasingly disconnected from nature, heritage, physicality, and even one other, the Iditarod provides an antidote. It’s not technology, analytics or big data that gets one to the finish line – it is athletic grit, “dogged” determination and the support teams of family members, friends, and fans. Moreover, it literally takes the support from dozens of villages of rural Alaska to get us to Nome.
Thank you in advance to our volunteers who ensure that a complicated supply chain, checkpoints, and a canine continuum of care are properly deployed and fortified. The Iditarod Air Force is arguably the best assembly of 30 strong bush pilots, who fly nearly 700 sorties, braving the elements, landing on ice, snow and rugged terrain from dawn to dusk. And our 55 veterinarians have collectively traveled thousands of miles to volunteer their time and talent to ensure exemplary care for our incredible 4-legged athletes
Though the workload to execute the race has never been greater, our small team continues to punch above its weight. I am fortunate to have a very dedicated and experienced leadership team who are all extremely passionate about organizing, deploying, and managing alongside me through all the challenges. Race Director/Marshall (and Iditarod finisher) Mark Nordman is in his 40th year; Chief Race Veterinarian Stuart Nelson is serving his 37th year at the helm of the Iditarod Veterinary Program and Chas St. George, serving for his 14th year, all work tirelessly year-round to make this race happen. I would also like to recognize long time finance director Don Patterson, Marketing and Communication Director Shannon Noonan, administrative assistant Starre Szelag, Jane Holmes who heads up Iditarod Education, and our phenomenal volunteer coordinators and contractors.
The Iditarod Board of Directors, led by President Mike Mills is competent, caring and committed to not only honoring mushing’s cultural importance, but also future proofing the Iditarod. On behalf of the entire Iditarod community, I thank all of you for your expertise, passion, and contributions.
I also want to thank our dedicated sponsorship family! Without your support and commitment, there is no Iditarod. Iditarod Nation, please stay loyal to our sponsors – when you purchase, support, or tell others about our sponsorship family’s products or services, you are supporting the Iditarod.
Finally, for all of the mushers, you inspire me every day, whenever I am feeling tired, down, or that the hurdles are too high, you give me energy to press on. So thank you and I wish each of you good fortune and am looking forward to seeing the joy in Nome.