Folks in Nome headed to the Nome Recreation Center for the Iditarod Finisher’s Banquet on a calm, sunny, warm afternoon. All the mushers were off the trail. The Widow’s Lamp was extinguished. The banquet would put Iditarod XLIV in the history books.
Chefs from the Lakefront Alaska Hotel of Anchorage prepared a meal that was nutritious and delicious. There was fresh fruit and fresh lettuce. Strawberries, some dipped in white chocolate others in dark chocolate were served in sleds. There were mountains of shrimp. There were mashed potatoes, rice pilaf and steamed vegetables. The main entrees were chicken and prime rib. Then there was dessert, trays and trays of desert including carrot cake, pecan pie, spice cake and assorted little bite sized cupcakes. So many choices, so much food and so delicious.
Some of the awards are voted on by the mushers themselves, some are determined by time or numbers and some are selected by race officials. Here’s a run down on the awards and a brief summary of stories behind the awards.
With the hope of promoting healing for all, the village of Nulato presented gifts to Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King. Race Judge Karen Ramstead who worked the Nulato Checkpoint presented the gifts. Zirkle and King were appreciative of the gesture and thanked the people of Nulato for their care and love.
PenAir Spirit of Alaska – First to McGrath – Dallas Seavey
GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award (Cripple) – Dallas Seavey
First Musher to Ophir Award – Brent Sass
Lakefront Alaska Hotel First Musher to the Yukon Award – Jeff King
Bristol Bay Native Corporation Fish First Award – Mitch Seavey
Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award – Brent Sass
Jerry Austin Rookie of the Year – Geir Idar Hjelvik – 26th place
Nome Kennel Club Fastest Time Safety to Nome Award – Nicolas Petit – 2 hrs, 25 minutes (top 20)
Matson Most Improved Musher – Noah Burmeister – Noah placed 52nd and 55th in previous races. Finishing 11th, he improved by forty some places.
Donlin Gold Sportsmanship Award – John Baker – Baker lends a helping hand to so many mushers. He’s also a role model and mentor for young mushers.
Musher’s Choice Award for Inspiration – Matt Failor – Matt seriously cut his knee. He was stitched up and wisely took his 24-hour rest in Nikolai. He made the run to McGrath to see how his stitches and knee would hold up. From there he adjusted the pace of his race and performed dog care with a knee that was less than flexible. As the miles went by on the trail, Matt’s knee healed and it was easier for him to move around. Right after thebanquet Matt was having those stitches removed.
Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Award – Ralph Johannessen – The musher chosen for the Nayokpuk award best exemplifies the humble nature, sportsmanship and unparalleled spirit that Herbie “Shishmaref Cannonball” Nayokpuk brought to the Iditarod.
Northern Air Cargo 4-wheeler – On the way to the podium each musher drew a key from a bag. Sigrid Ekran of Norway drew the key that started the engine.
Golden Clipboard Award – Village of Nulato – The whole community participated at the checkpoint. The village is very proud of their checkpoint and their association with Iditarod. It’s the spirit of this community that makes the Nulato checkpoint.
Alaska Airlines Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award – Aliy Zirkle – In accepting this very prestigious award, Aliy said that the condition of the dogs at the end of the race has largely to do with the condition they’re in at the beginning of the race. Aliy’s husband Allen Moore ran her team in the Yukon Quest taking third place. All 14 of those dogs were in her team. Aliy called Allen to the stage to share in the award.
Alaska Airlines brought DeeDee Jonrowe to the stage to present her with an exact replica of the Humanitarian trophy she received years back that was lost when the Sockeye Fire destroyed her home.
City of Nome Lolly Medley Golden Harness Award – Reef (Dallas Seavey) – Mayor of Nome Richard Beneville helped Dallas harness Reef. Reef has been with Dallas in his past three victories. Reef ran with Beetle in 2014, Hero in 2015 and Tide in 2016. Dallas said Reef is a dog that just loves to run, he’s focus, doesn’t waste energy and is ready when called off the straw. Dallas calls Reef the most talented and athletic dog he has ever run.
Finisher’s Belt Buckle – 16 Rookies earned the belt buckle and are now members of the Iditarod Official Finisher’s Club (IOFC)