After a grueling nine days, seven hours, and 39 minutes, Mitch Seavey crossed the finish line in Nome, Alaska, last Tuesday, becoming the oldest person ever to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
“This is for all of the gentlemen of a certain age who think it ends at 50, because it doesn’t,” he said.
The Iditarod, Alaska’s most popular sporting event, is a 1,000-mile race through brutal winter conditions that can include blizzards, strong winds, and sub-zero temperatures. Sixty-six mushers, each with a starting team of 16 dogs, participated in the race this year.
“Mitch has this ability to sit on the sidelines and refuel because he knows he needs to refuel, while everyone else is zooming by,” said runner-up Aliy Zirkle who finished 24 minutes behind Seavey. “It’s smart, and that’s probably why [he] won.”
Seavey, 53, won the top prize of $50,400 and a 2013 Dodge Ram pickup truck. The dogs that crossed the finish line pulling him were crowned with yellow garlands.
Three generations of Seaveys have participated in the sled dog race. Dan Seavey, Mitch’s father, competed in the first ever Iditarod back in 1973. Dallas Seavey, Mitch’s 26-year-old son, became the youngest person to ever win the race in 2012 and finished fourth in this year’s competition.
“Last year we saw a lot of those youngsters in the top 10,” Iditarod spokeswoman Erin McLarnon said. “Some of those 45-plussers are taking back the lead this year. They are showing the young ’uns what they can really do out there on that trail.”
Young mushers have a clear physical advantage in the race. If dogs are tired of pulling a young musher, he or she can run alongside of the sled to give the dogs a break without having to stop. But veteran mushers have advantages that come with experience, like knowing how to handle an oncoming storm or the numbing effects of sleep deprivation. Because of these factors, competitive dog mushers have a wide age range.
Seavey and Zirkle, 43, pulled away from the rest of the competition during the final stages of the race. The two mushers were never more than a few miles apart as they raced down the coast of the Bering Sea toward Nome. Zirkle, who also finished second in 2012, was vying to become the first woman in 23 years to win the race.
“I just now stopped looking over my shoulder,” Seavey said shortly after winning.
During a late night press conference, Seavey, Zirkle, and other mushers described the difficulties and dangers of the race, including intense fatigue and hallucination.
“Nothing was predictable … and that made it fun,” Zirkle said.