Let’s clear the air about the Last Great Race

With the start of Iditarod upon us, now is a good time to extend a warm, familiar welcome to our sport’s biggest fans — fellow Alaskans. The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) looks forward to another successful race that highlights the best of Alaska and her people, from Anchorage to Nome, and in every community along the route.

We understand that it has been a tumultuous year, and some of our fans may be wondering about the status of Iditarod. Let’s clear the air before getting into some of the improvements we are making this year.

ITC wants to reiterate that it never asserted that Dallas Seavey was responsible for the positive drug test results reported to us earlier this year. What we have said, repeatedly, is that we do not know how the drug in question came to be present in the urine of Seavey’s dogs. Because of that, the ITC has not sanctioned or disciplined Seavey, or taken any actions against him as a result of the positive test results.

Since 1994, the ITC has been a leader in drug testing of canine athletes, and will continue to lead in this field. Over the last decade especially, the collaboration between Iditarod mushers and veterinarians has resulted in great advances in animal care. The dogs that run the Iditarod are some of the greatest athletes on the planet, and the continuum of canine care provided throughout the race is the top priority of everyone involved.

It is truly our hope to put the events of last year behind us, not only for the good of the race, but also to put the focus back where it belongs: the health, safety and well-being of Iditarod mushers, their incredible sled dogs, and the volunteers and personnel who make it happen, year after year.

In that spirit, race fans can expect a “back to the basics” approach to the Iditarod in 2018: We have spent the last year looking at trail improvements, increased safety and security measures, and enhancements to priority No. 1, dog care.

We remain optimistic about the future of Iditarod, because our fundamentals are strong: The world’s longest sled dog race continues to thrill and enchant fans from across the world, including the Alaskans who have cheered us on for more than 45 years. Many of our longest-running and most recognizable sponsors have stuck by us, and some new ones have even stepped in, an act of partnership for which we are most grateful. In a nice change, we’re also excited to return to the southern race route, which means seeing old friends along the trail for the first time since 2013. We are also committed, pending trail conditions, to the southern race route for the 2019 and 2020 races.

We invite you to join us on this adventure. From Fourth Avenue in Anchorage and all the communities touched in between to the finish on Front Street underneath the Burled Arch in Nome, the race is always exciting, and spectators make the experience much more fun for the mushers and sled dogs. Of course, follow us online at Iditarod.com, too, to keep up on the latest race standings.

In an interesting twist, Alaskans can expect to see non-resident, PETA protesters in Alaska this year. While we respect their right to protest, they are gravely misinformed about how the Iditarod operates, and clearly do not understand how much the canine athletes love to run. So, when you see these folks on the streets, please extend to them our famous Alaska hospitality, but tell them why they’re wrong. You can also thank them for boosting our state’s economy by paying for hotel rooms, rental cars, meals, entertainment, airline tickets, and more. The Iditarod is proud of the economic contribution to Alaska and thanks all Alaskans who support and contribute to the Last Great Race.

In that spirit, we encourage race fans to reflect on the reasons this race continues to draw us in, year after year: the amazing canine athletes doing what they love more than anything, the incredibly tough mushers who care for their beloved dogs like family, and the beauty and ruggedness of Alaska, the most beautiful backdrop we can imagine for this world-class race.

Stan Hooley is CEO of the Iditarod Trail Committee.