Iditarod next challenge for Iowa wrestler

Posted: Monday, August 28, 2006

SHENANDOAH, Iowa - Former Shenandoah resident Matt Anderson is mushing full speed ahead to the 2007 Iditarod.

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It's a new challenge for Anderson, a wrestler who won two state titles for Shenandoah and finished his prep career with a 172-4 record. He went on to wrestle for the University of Iowa, where he was a starter for three years. He qualified for the NCAA meet twice and ended his wrestling career with a 78-43 record.

Anderson's latest adventure is far from the world of wrestling. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a 1,150-mile trek through subzero temperatures across the most extreme Alaskan terrain.

"I think he's crazy," said Patti Dickerson of Shenandoah, Anderson's mother. "But I'm not surprised. Matt loves to compete and he is not afraid to take risks."

Anderson said he had long been interested in the Iditarod.

"As a kid I remember seeing Jeff King ads in Cabela's magazine and knew it was the greatest race on earth," he said.

Anderson expressed this interest to college wrestling mates. They teased him.

"One day I found a picture of Iditarod winner Doug Swingley on my locker," he said. "Only his face had been replaced by mine. Tom Brands (newly hired University of Iowa wrestling coach) put it there, and I believe still has it. Tom knew that the determination that it took to run the race was right up my alley."

The dogs also were an interest for Anderson.

"I love dogs," he said. "I can bond with almost any dog out there, and traveling across Alaska with 16 of them appealed to me greatly."

There was no doubt in Anderson's mind that he would some day compete in the Iditarod.

"I showed up at Doug Swingley's doorstep in the fall of 2003 and it took off from there," he said.

Swingley questioned Anderson to make certain he was committed and realized the financial and time demands necessary to field a competitive team. Once he understood Anderson's devotion, he helped him outline a plan. He started racing in 2004.

In 2006, Anderson earned his ticket to the Iditarod by competing in a pair of qualifiers - a 200-mile event in Oregon and a 330-mile race in Canada.

Anderson estimates his first Iditarod will cost nearly $22,000, most of which will go toward shipping his gear to the 21 checkpoints along the trail.

Anderson has raised and bought some dogs, but his full time job with the Bureau of Land Management forces him to keep his kennel small. While top mushers will select their team of 16 from a group of 250, Anderson is picking from 24.

"When you don't have a lot of really talented athletes to choose from, you have to change a bit," he said. "You have to have raw-bone, tough dogs that can go seven or eight miles an hour for 1,140 miles. That's my team. We're not real fast, but we don't require a lot of sleep and we're pretty steady."

His team will be composed of mainly 3- and 4-year-old dogs.

"That's kind of the peak right now for Iditarod dogs," Anderson said. "But I've also got Otis. He has finished in the top 10 in four Iditarods. Otis will be 9 years old running the Iditarod next year."

Anderson said he plans to use Otis in different positions.

"You can't put him in the lead at the beginning of the race because he'll try to turn around on you and go home," he said. "But there's a point in the race where he knows he's going to his doghouse. Then I put him in front and he is like a steering wheel."

Anderson said his strategy is to run six hours, then rest six hours until he reaches the coast.

"I love the logistics of the race. It's a 10-day chess match. I want to pull into Nome and have a healthy, happy dog team," Anderson said.

On his chances of winning, Anderson said, "Everyone I talk to says that if you're a rookie and you go to win it, you're not going to finish. If you go to run a solid dog team, you might be in the thick of it when you get to the coast."

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