Eye on the Trail: What’s the Story Behind the Award?

2023 Champion Ryan Redington Shares the Stage with Sponsors While Talking Race (Photo: Insider Video)

Between the Musher Banquet in Anchorage where start order was determined and the Finisher’s Banquet in Nome where stories were shared and mushers were honored, many miles have passed under the sled runners.  While the line on the map is the same for every musher, the trail is entirely unique. 

Some of the awards presented at the banquet were for arriving first like the Alaska Air Transit Award going to the first mushers arriving in McGrath or the GCI Dorothy G. Page award given to the first musher to Iditarod.  These awards were presented on the trail and were presented again at the banquet.  

Other awards bestowed were based on actions or skill demonstrated during the race.  Various groups nominate and decide on recipients for those awards.  The stories behind these “chosen” awards were shared by the recipient during the presentation, now you can know the rest of the story.

– Nome Kennel Club Fastest Time from Safety to Nome –

Nicolas Petit covered the 22 mile distance in 2 hours and 12 minutes.  This is the fourth time Nic has won the award.  His goal this year was to improve his 2 hour and 9 minute time from 2018.  Nic fell short of his goal by three minutes but he vowed he’d try again next year.  Nic received a check for $500.

– Most Improved Musher Award –

Matthew Failor scored his first top ten finish of his Iditarod Career, eighth place.  He improved 22 places from his 30tth  place finish in 2022.  Matthew received $2,000 in cash.

– Donlin Gold Sportsmanship Award –

The recipient, Hunter Keefe was chosen by fellow mushers.  Keefe could have been selected for any number of reasons including giving Eddie Burke, Jr. a ride nearly to Anvik after Eddie lost his team on the Yukon River.  Hunter saw a musher walking along the trail and thought if he were in that position, he’d certainly appreciate a ride.  When Eddie joined Hunter on the runners, his team just kept moving.  Not a single dog slowed down or looked back, questioning the sudden addition of weight.  Hunter was very proud of his team and happy that a fellow musher could see them perform.  Hunter was living a dream on the trail and was upbeat and happy all the time, sometimes to the point of dancing and singing on the runners!  He seemed to spread sunshine where ever his was.  Keefe received a check for $3,000.

– Most Inspirational Musher Award –

Mushers chose to honor Jason Mackey as most inspirational.  Jason Mackey carried the ashes of his brother, Lance Mackey and their mother Kathie Smith.  Jason spread Lance’s ashes along the trail in some of the icon’s favorite locations – outside of Skwentna, the saddle of Rainy Pass, on the trail near Ophir and on the Fish River near White Mountain.  Mackey was surprised by the emotions he felt and tears he shed, especially at the top of Rainy Pass.  Mackey also had to adjust his run schedule after many of his dogs caught an intestinal bug.  He finished the race with five dogs in harness, the leader being a dog from Lance.  Jason received a paid entry for the 2024 Iditarod.

– Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Award –

As a person who emulates “Herbie” the Shishmaref Cannon Ball in his or her attitude on the trial, Bridgett Watkins was chosen by race staff and officials to receive this honor.  Herbie, a musher’s musher, was known for his smile, enthusiasm, competitiveness, sportsmanship, indomitable spirit, dog care and willingness to share the sport with young mushers.  To be like Herbie is a real compliment.  Bridgett received a Northern Air Cargo Jacket with $1,049 dollars in pocket change and beautiful handmade crafts by the Nayokpuk family. 

– Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award presented by the Pike Dog Wellness Initiative –

Deke Naaktgeboran, the 20th place finisher, was honored with the Humanitarian Award.  Deke finished with 12 dogs in harness, more than any other musher.  He was very excited yet humbled to receive this recognition that means more to mushers than winning the race.  Deke said, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”  The award goes to a musher who finishes in the top twenty.   The winning musher is determined by a combination of votes from trail veterinarians and independent scoring of the teams by three veterinarians in Nome who assess the athletes on hydration, attitude, body weight and gait.  As the winner, Deke receives a trophy and a paid entry fee for the 2024 Iditarod.

– City of Nome Lolly Medley Memorial Golden Harness Award –

Ryan Redington’s leaders Ghost, age 6 and Sven, age 4 received the Golden Harness Award.  The recipient or in this case recipients are chosen by mushers and given to the most outstanding lead dog(s).  The award isn’t limited to only the champion’s leaders.  The canine athlete receives an embroidered gold-colored harness.  Ryan says Ghost has run in his last four Iditarod teams, do the math – he was two when he began his illustrious career.  The harnesses are presented in honor of the late Lolly Medley, a Wasilla harness maker and one of two women to run the second Iditarod in 1974.

For a complete list of 2023 musher awards from Honorary Musher to Red Lantern, click the link or go to the Race Center pulldown menu and select Special Awards.