A childhood dream come true

Seward's Mitch Seavey arrives in Nome first to win the 2004 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

NOME - Mitch Seavey's childhood dream came true when he won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, finishing the 1,112-mile route across Alaska in 9 days, 12 hours, 20 minutes and 22 seconds.

Seavey, 43, of Seward, crossed the finish line at 10:20 p.m. Alaska time in what had been one of the closest Iditarod races in years.

It was a dream come true for the veteran musher, who has competed in the Iditarod 11 times. His previous best finish was fourth in 1998, but he slumped to 42nd place in 2001 and was 12th last year.

"I'm sort of in disbelief," Seavey said. "I think everybody's happy to have an Alaskan boy win the Iditarod."

Hundreds of people, clapping and cheering, were gathered on Front Street in Nome to welcome Seavey into the winner's chute.

Three-time winner Jeff King of Denali Park was more than an hour behind. King is competing in his 15th Iditarod, having finished in the top 10 every year since 1992.

Norway's Kjetil Backen, who led for most of the race, was running 42 minutes behind King on the last 22-mile stretch from Safety to Nome. King and Backen were the only other two mushers to have reached Safety at press time Tuesday night.

Seavey said it was a fun race for him, and he knew if he did things right, his dogs could bring him in first at Nome.

"This dog team is awesome," he said. "I knew if I didn't make any big mistakes ... I knew they could do it."

Seavey's dream of winning the race began as a child when he listened to his father, Dan, help plan the first Iditarod in 1973.

Seavey said it didn't matter that he had only a three-dog team at the time.

"Every time I'd be running dogs by our house I'd be imagining myself in the finish chute in Nome winning the Iditarod," he said.

Mushing is a family activity for the Seaveys, who run a sled dog tour operation on Exit Glacier near Seward during the summer. The Seavey clan is one of two three-generation Iditarod families.

Seavey's father finished third in the 1973 Iditarod and has run the race several more times. Mitch's sons Danny and Tyrell also have run the race, with Danny finishing 43rd in 2001 and Tyrell 36th last year.

The other three-generation family is the Redington clan, led by the late Iditarod founder Joe Redington. Joe's sons Joee and Ray have both run the race, as have grandsons Ray Jr. and Ryan.

The Iditarod, the longest sled dog race in the world, commemorates a 674-mile relay race from Nenana to Nome in February 1925 when dog teams successfully delivered serum to prevent an outbreak of diphtheria among children.

While Seavey liked how his race went, it hadn't been an easy ride for him, he said.

"We have tougher races somewhere else, but I'm not sure where," the sleep-deprived musher said.

Seavey said that he wondered, during the early parts of the race, if he had a chance at all this year. He got fired up in the second half and became much more aggressive. His change of attitude occurred in Kaltag, 351 miles from Nome, where he had a friendly lunch with Backen, who was in the lead at the time.

"It looked like he was going to walk away with it," Seavey said. "I decided somebody had to go get that guy, and I did. We were able to reel him in."

Backen tried unsuccessfully Monday to snatch the lead back from Seavey but was third arriving in White Mountain on Tuesday morning, the last checkpoint before Nome. Mushers are required to take an eight-hour layover in White Mountain, which gives teams a chance to rest for the final push to Nome.

Backen, who came in 10th in 2002, was running nearly the same team as the one that fellow Norwegian Robert Sorlie did to win the 2003 Iditarod. Sorlie did not compete this year.

King, who has led several times over since the race restart in Willow, said Seavey had put together some good runs.

King said Seavey's dogs, in his opinion, had outperformed the musher. Seavey had made some mistakes that could have cost him the race but hadn't because of his fast team, King said.

Seavey acknowledged that he lost 52 minutes after leaving the Golovin checkpoint 18 miles before White Mountain because he was convinced he was on the wrong trail, even though he wasn't. He went back to the checkpoint to make sure he really was on the Iditarod trail.

Backen, also a frequent leader during the race, was leading Sunday going into Unalakleet when one of his dogs collapsed and died. A necropsy found the dog died of a gastric ulcer.

Backen, who came in 10th in 2002, was running nearly the same team as the one that fellow Norwegian Robert Sorlie did to win the 2003 Iditarod. Sorlie did not compete this year.

"Mitch's flying team," Backen said Tuesday morning, as he checked the holes worn through the heels of the felt liners to his boots while waiting the required eight-hour rest in White Mountain.

Seavey told The Associated Press in an interview in 2001 that his dream of winning the race began with conversations he overheard as his father Dan Seavey, a schoolteacher named Tom Johnson and "father of the Iditarod" Joe Redington planned the first 1,100-mile race to Nome in 1973.

Seavey said it didn't matter that he had only a three-dog team at the time.

"Every time I'd be running dogs by our house I'd be imagining myself in the finish chute in Nome winning the Iditarod," he said.

A record 87 mushers began the race's ceremonial start March 6 from downtown Anchorage. The 2004 Iditarod has prize money of more than $700,000. The first-place prize is $69,000 and a new Dodge pickup truck worth $41,410. About one-third of this year's record field were rookies.



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