Rookie Run

As I write this post I am sitting in a beautiful corner of the Kegoayah Kozga Public Library in Nome, Alaska looking out the window at local children sledding down a giant hill.  It is peaceful and serene; quite different from the excitement of the Iditarod FINISH on Front Street.  

The Library gives a warm welcome to visitors! Photo Credit: J. Westrich

School is out! Time to go sledding! Photo Credit: J. Westrich

And it was definitely exciting on Front Street earlier this afternoon when rookie musher Hunter Keefe arrived! His first Iditarod came to a close at 2:39pm AST after racing for 9 days, 23 hours, 39 minutes, and 44 seconds. What a fantastic run! He came into Nome with the same attitude he has displayed for much of the race – positivity and pure joy!  

Hunter Keefe at the Nome Finish. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

If you recall, I had the great privilege of riding with Hunter at the Ceremonial Start as his Iditarider. Through the events associated with that experience I saw his boundless enthusiasm for the sport, his deep love of the dogs, and his desire to see his childhood dream fulfilled. Make no mistake, this race is HARD, but Hunter embodies the philosophy that if you love what you do even the hard part can be fun.

Riding with Hunter Keefe at the Ceremonial Start. Photo Credit: J. Denton

In the checkpoint of Iditarod he could be heard singing and dancing on his sled, keeping himself awake, the dogs entertained, and his mood positive.  

Hunter Keefe sings and dances as he arrives to Iditarod. Photo Credit: Dave Poyzer

In Unalakleet, he skipped across the the lot screaming my name and I was able to give him a huge hug!  Humble to a fault, he seemed surprised that sandwiches and pizza from family and fans was waiting for him in the checkpoint. 

Hunter Keefe enjoying all the food ordered for him in Unalakleet. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Nerves were on edge last night as he holed up in the cabin to wait out the weather and it was a sigh of relief when he made the move toward Nome this morning.  The crowd to greet him at the finish was large – a testament to his character and affability.  It is impossible not to like this guy!

Still smiling after all those miles. Hunter Keefe gets love from lead dogs Senior and Whip. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Champion Ryan Redington was there, along with his parents Barb and Raymie Redington, whose dogs Hunter was running. Finisher Jessie Holmes was there to congratulate him, along with Eddie Burke, Jr. who earlier in the race hitched a ride with Hunter for a few miles when his dog team left him behind! That’s Hunter – a dog musher fulfilling his childhood dream of finishing the Iditarod, one that started in Kindergarten, and doing it with the endless of joy for the sport, deep love of the dogs, and a spirit of camaraderie and generosity towards his fellow mushers. It was a joy to watch his rookie run and I am ready to root him on again when he returns to Iditarod in the future.