FAIRBANKS — Abraham Henry Sr. ran his first sled dog race when Franklin Roosevelt was president, World War II was raging and Alaska was still a few decades away from statehood. It was 1940, and Henry was 4 years old.
Last month, Henry’s racing career came full circle. The 78-year-old Venetie traditional chief took his last competitive run on April 12 during the Venetie spring carnival. He crashed during the 14-mile race, he said, but finished with his sense of humor intact.
“They gave me the sportsmanship award,” Henry said by telephone from his Venetie home. “They’re nice people here.”
The run was the last of many races for Henry, who said he won seven of them through the years. But Henry pointed out that his team has always been about more than racing. His dogs were the muscle behind his subsistence lifestyle for years, helping him haul firewood and make runs down his trapline.
Many people use snowmachines today for those activities, but Henry said he still prefers a more traditional form of transportation.
“I like dogs,” he said. “They don’t cost me nothing and they never break down.”
Henry and his wife, Sally, raised their large family in Venetie while running dogs, and the tradition will continue. Henry said his teenage grandson, Daniel, will take over his eight-dog team to check the trapline and maybe run the occasional race.
Henry said he’s enjoyed his lifestyle, and is happy to pass it on to a new generation.
“He’ll be a good driver,” Henry said. “He’s not going to watch TV — he’s got to work.”