I arrived in Anchorage this week on a special flight filled with Iditarod volunteers, race judges, veterinarians, and our race marshal, Mark Nordman. We had a great time cheering, laughing and telling tales from the trail. We ate homemade sandwiches and brownies and enjoyed this special last time together as we traveled from Nome after weeks on the trail. We knew we all had enjoyed the opportunity of a lifetime, but it was coming to a close.
The Iditarod Insider crew did a great job of sharing about the Finishers Banquet in Nome, but I have my own special memories of that night. The Anchorage Lakefront Hotel cooked a meal fit for a king, as the mushers, their families, volunteers, and Nome citizens feasted on prime rib and, of course, their famous chocolate covered strawberries.
It was a wonderful opportunity for me to walk around and say good-bye to mushers who had helped me so much this year with sharing Iditarod lessons with teachers around the world. Their generous gift of time helped make the Iditarod authentic and personal to children all over, and I will be forever grateful.
I also gave a hug to Canadian musher Jason Campeau, whose sled I rode in for the Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage. It was an amazing experience. The dedication these mushers have towards education and connecting kids to the mushing world is extraordinary. I am so thankful to have spent time with them this year!
The banquet lasted a few hours, and trophies and stories were shared from the stage all evening. Early on, a gift from the village of Nulato was given to Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King. The citizens there raised money for them after the tragic incident on the Yukon River, and Jeff spoke about giving it back to the community to support drug and alcohol abuse wellness programs. It was a lovely gesture, and everyone was moved by the opportunity and generosity from Aliy and Jeff to want to help those in need.
In a very emotional moment, Aliy took home the award for best dog care, and asked her husband, Allen Moore, to come to the stage and accept it with her. The Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award has been given out since 1982 to the musher who shows the best dog care and remains competitive. Aliy won this, hands down.
DeeDee Jonrowe was surprised with a replica of the very same award she had won years ago. It was destroyed in the Sockeye Fire this summer. She was deeply moved by the gesture, and talked about starting over and moving forward.
Another special moment from the stage was hearing from veteran Iditarod champion, Martin Buser. His son has been recovering from a serious car accident, and it was quite remarkable to see Martin on the trail this year. Martin has a wonderful attitude, and I remember in Nikolai the villagers talked about his sense of humor and generosity all these years on the trail when he would come through. Martin joked about his long “camping trip” this year in the Iditarod, and he had high spirits and a smile as he left the stage to loud applause from the crowd.
There were many, many memories made and shared that night. I loved the fact that every musher had the chance to take the stage and say something personal about their experience on the trail. The rookie mushers were handed what they had worked so hard for, the Iditarod belt buckle to wear with pride. Some stories were moving and some were funny…and everything in between. It was a perfect way to end the Last Great Race on Earth™.