When you put seventy-two mushers into one room, there’s much reminiscing between friends with the common bond of sleds and dogs. Add to that friends, family and sponsors of the seventy-two mushers and it’s guaranteed the good times get better. Add to that representatives of all the corporations who sponsor the race – Wheel Dog, Team Dog, Lead Dog and Principal Partners the celebration grows bigger. Then add THE IDITAROD FANS and you have a gala event. The Thursday evening Mushers Banquet is held at the beautiful Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage. As to the number of folks who gathered to celebrate the 45th Iditarod and observe the mushers drawing for bibs and starting positions, well let’s just say there were places set for two thousand and there were very few empty chairs.
Hobo Jim was singing the Iditarod Song as people sought out mushers for autographs. Lots of pictures were snapped with mushing heroes prior to dinner being served. After people enjoyed the steak entrée, two special awards were presented just prior to the musher’s drawing bib numbers.
Leo Rasmussen of Nome was named Honorary Musher for the 2017 race by the Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors. It was December of 1972 when Leo first heard of Iditarod through a letter sent by Joe Redington, Sr. to Howard Farley of Nome. Howard asked Leo what he thought about the race Joe described in the letter. Looking back to that day Leo remarks, “We had no idea where it would go or even if it would go at all.” It did go and Leo signed up to be a checker at the finish line for the first Iditarod. He has welcomed mushers to Nome and checked their mandatory ever since. From the race guide, “Leo grew up with the belief that it was important to make life better when you leave it than when you got into it.” If Leo has one regret with regard to his long association with Iditarod, it’s that he didn’t see the start of the first race. The ITC Board of Directors extended sincere thanks to Leo for the time, energy and effort he’s given to the race.
Greg Bill was the recipient of the Iditarod Trail Race Foundation Founder’s Award. Greg was a long time Iditarod employee who retired in 2014 after forty-two years of service to the race. He passed away in December of 2016. He’s been involved with the race since its inception in 1973. He started as a volunteer selling raffle tickets and business memberships along with numerous other jobs until he became a staff member in 1984. In 1986 Bill was given the title of Development Director. Over the years he’s credited with raising millions of dollars on behalf of the race. Greg has said that even though he held a staff position, he always considered himself to be a volunteer as there were so many things to help with beyond his job description in order to stage the race. When Greg retired he asked all Iditarod friends to honor a promise he made to Joe Redington, Sr. prior to Joe’s death in 1999, see that “his race” never dies.
The big event of the evening was the drawing for bib numbers. After the mushers sign up at the summer picnic, their names are drawn from a hat to determine the order in which bib numbers will be drawn. Those mushers were in the first draw for bibs 2 through 45. The second draw for bibs 46 to 73 was for mushers who signed up after the June picnic. There was a little glitch when Aliy Zirkle reached into the big furry mukluk. There should have been at least a few tags remaining in the boot however, it appeared to be empty. After very close examination, some numbers had lodged in the toe of the mukluk out of Aliy’s reach. After a few tense moments of examining the mukluk and extricating the uncooperative chips, Aliy was able to draw her bib number – #41. A complete list of musher bib numbers can be found on the Iditarod web page.
As each musher drew for starting position, they had the opportunity to say a few words of thanks. Many mushers also recognized special aspect of their journey to Nome. Cindy Abbott will be carrying the ashes of friend, Susan Gardner, to Nome. During the ceremonial start, Ryan Redington will have Annika Carrasco, sponsored by Make-a-Wish as his Iditarider. All of Al Eischen’s miles are dedicated to pediatric disease awareness. Rick Casillo says the primary goal of his kennel is racing Iditarod and raising awareness for combat veterans. Musher Larry Daugherty will be carrying prayer flags representing cancer patients to Nome. The prayer flags will also go with Daugherty as he climbs Mt. Everest following Iditarod. Many of the mushers run to promote special causes. Check the musher bio section of the web page to learn more about causes individual mushers promote.
Next on the “official” schedule is the Ceremonial Start in downtown Anchorage at 10:00 on Saturday morning. For the past several days it’s been very windy but checking the forecast for Saturday, it looks to be perfect – sunny, highs between 15 to 20 degrees with light winds. Well, perfect for the humans but the dogs might like it closer to 10 degrees.