KENAI - Since the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1973 - when Dick Wilmarth crossed the finish line after more than 20 days on the trail to claim the $12,000 prize for first - the race has undergone nothing short of an evolution.
From the type of gear used, to the type of dog bred for it, to the way the dogs are trained and raced - nearly every facet of the Iditarod has changed since the beginning, which is the reason Iditarod staffers have decided to make a historical documentary about the race.
"This will be a documentary told by the people," said Chas St. George, Iditarod's director of public relations. "Not just those that were there at the inception - when Dick Wilmarth crossed, not under a burled arch, but over a line of Kool-Aid poured in the snow - we'll also be talking to key individuals who have been an important part of the race through its continuum to the present day."
"Iditarod is almost 40 years old now, so this is long overdue," said Greg Heister, the film's executive producer.
The 90-minute documentary will include archived photos and interviews with more than 50 people, including past champions and other mushers, race veterinarians, Iditarod Air Force pilots, volunteers and others.
Several of the featured mushers who played pivotal roles in the race's evolution - from an unknown adventure to an ultracompetition - are from the Kenai Peninsula. These include Dean Osmar, the 1984 champion, and his son Timmy Osmar, who has finished 23 Iditarods and also led the first legally blind musher through the race.
Dan Seavey, who competed in the first Iditarod, is also featured, as well as his son Mitch, the 2004 champion, and his grandson Dallas, who placed sixth in the 2009 Iditarod on only his third attempt.
Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the race, is included, as well as Paul Gebhardt, a 14 year veteran of the race, who has twice finished in second place.
Gebhardt was also among the first mushers to pioneer what has become a main race strategy of running longer runs at slower speeds, rather than adhering to the long-standing, six-on/six-off, run/rest schedule. Gebhardt also favors taking his mandatory rest later in the race, to have more speed at the end when other teams are starting to slow down.
"I was included as a person who changed how the race is run," Gebhardt said. "I was the first guy ever to go to Galena (667 miles into the race) without taking my mandatory 24 hours of rest first. I actually took my mandatory 8 in Ruby (615 miles in), before taking my 24."
Gebhardt said at the time, it was a decision made to favor his breeding and training style, but being included in the historical documentary because of his actions was an honor.
"It felt good to be asked to be in it," Gebhardt said. "I've been in other race videos, but this one is different. It made me feel like part of the Iditarod family, and it's good to know that people for years to come will know about my accomplishments and contributions to the race."
St. George said when the documentary is completed, it will set the stage for the viewing audience to have a greater understanding of what the race is all about, but more importantly, he said, "It will make sure the history of the race isn't lost."
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