ASJ Cover Boy Defends Iditarod Title

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Cover image courtesy of Albert Lewis, seespotrun.com

This is shaping up to be a great week for Dallas Seavey. The cover subject of our March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal  just defended his 2014 Iditarod title with his third overall championship.

Here’s some of the Associated Press report via ESPN:

The Alaska musher crossed the finish line in the Bering Sea coastal town of Nome at 4:13 a.m., completing the route in eight days, 8 hours, 13 minutes and 6 seconds. That’s about five hours longer than the record he set in winning the 2014 race.

“Obviously going into this race, the big hubbub was all about the new trail, right?” Seavey told a packed convention hall. Concerns were about the “warm, warm, warm winter” and conditions on the Yukon River.

In fact, a snowmobile sank on thin ice on part of the route mushers were about to take. Some were considering buying rain gear.

But then winter came back to Alaska, and the trails became much more like one would expect for the Iditarod.

“We saw a lot of 40-, 50-below zero, snow,” said Seavey, of Willow. “This was a very tough race. It was not the easy run that a lot of people had anticipated for the Yukon River.”

Seavey’s father, Mitch, finished in second place Wednesday, followed by Aaron Burmeister. Behind them en route to Nome were Jessie Royer and Aliy Zirkle.

To win this demanding race three times in four years – his dad Mitch won the other – is a testament to not just Dallas Seavey but the dogs in his team (Alaska Dispatch has video of him crossing the finish line in Nome).

Seavey’s adventures in Alaska continue this Sunday night at 10 p.m. Pacific in the season finale of his National Geographic Channel series, Ultimate Survival Alaska.  Seavey’s Endurance team was in last place among the four teams, but anything can happen in the final challenge. But he’s already won the show’s season competition already, so his legacy is secure. And winning another Iditarod by the age of 28 puts him among the sport’s elite mushers, with seemingly plenty of races ahead of him.

Here’s Seavey to the Fairbanks News-Miner:

“The wins are a result of doing what we love. It takes a whole team to get us here.”

Finally, here’s our story on Dallas (Photos by Dallas Seavey and National Geographic Channel):

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By Chris Cocoles

Not including Dallas Seavey’s “home” squad – with wife, Jennifer and daughter, Annie – he is a vital leader of two teams that are a huge part of his life.

Seavey, who turns 28 this month, is a veteran of the National Geographic Channel series Ultimate Survival Alaska (the season finale will air on March 22 at 10 p.m., 9 Central, with new shows on Sunday nights). He’s appeared on all three seasons, leading Team Endurance to the title in season two last year and welcomed two new teammates for season three, which wraps up this month.

“It was intriguing because we were traveling across Alaska, living out of a backpack and seeing some of the most unique and strange terrain that this state has to offer,” Seavey says. “And that always takes a level of creativity and ingenuity to work your way through that environment. And it was particularly intriguing to us because that’s what my family has grown up doing.”

And for essentially the entire year, particularly the 10 or so days of the Iditarod that define the sport starting on March 9 when the race will start from Fairbanks due to low snowfall, Seavey is carrying on his family’s distinguished tradition among Alaska’s sled dog-racing community. He’s mushed his dog teams to win the sport’s premier event,  in both 2012 (when, at 25, he was the race’s youngest champion), and 2014 (when at 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds, he won the race in record time; quite a contrast from inaugural winner Dick Wilmarth needing over 20 days to complete the course in 1973).

It’s quite the busy life, but it’s exactly the way Seavey prefers his days to go: raising and racing dogs throughout his home state, conquering mental and physical challenges in the Alaskan bush, and introducing Annie to dog mushing, which three generations of Seaveys have thrived on since the 1960s. The family has dominated the last three Iditarods, Dallas’ two titles sandwiched around his father Mitch becoming the – wait for it – oldest winner of the 1,000-mile, “Last Great Race on Earth” at age 53 in 2013, his second title. Dallas’ grandfather and Mitch’s dad Dan Sr. was one of the founding fathers of the Iditarod’s inaugural race in the early 1970s. With Seaveys winning the last three races, it’s a golden era for the family

“There something to competing with your dad. And especially since my dad and I were very close,” Dallas Seavey says. “When I was with my dad in 2013 at (the White Mountain checkpoint), only 77 miles to go and him within striking distance of his second Iditarod win, it was a neat experience.”

It wasn’t the first time Seaveys had shared the stage.

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WHAT’S A PRODUCER’S dream? Cast two brothers in a live-action series where contestants are thrown into the middle of nowhere and given a challenge to get to a destination faster than their opponents. At 26, Dallas was already a household name in Alaska based on his 2012 Iditarod win and, when approached by National Geographic to do Ultimate Survival Alaska, convinced older brother Tyrell, then 28, to join him.

Surely, the siblings would provide compelling conversations and, maybe, if the show was lucky, some epic arguments as they decided on a plan of attack for whatever rivers needed to be crossed or mountains needed to be climbed. Except it wasn’t quite a family feud.

“We’ve always worked together,” says Dallas of his and Tyrell’s jobs at their dad’s kennel. “And that’s a different relationship when you work with somebody rather than having to co-habitate in the same building. And a lot of siblings are, I suppose. They don’t force you to interact beyond a certain degree. But we were always solving problems and being forced to work together. So I think we hatched out most of our differences by the time we were 12.”

Dallas called it “silent communication,” when conversations about how to approach the tasks at hand would almost become telekinetic mojo between he and Tyrell. Dallas considered this as two battle-tested Alaskans who knew exactly what problems lay ahead in the area’s topography, potential weather issues that confront them or the odds of accomplishing the goals with the limited tools and supplies they were given.

So in sync with each other were the Seaveys, when they plotted their course, they were encouraged by the cameraman to interact a little more. But that “we may not be flashy, we are effective” technique fit well into the equation. Bring together a small group of alpha-type personalities who all feel like their way is the best way, and you’re sure to get disagreements.

“It’s the Seavey way to just get the job done; not a lot of flair, not a lot of extra conversations,” says Dallas, who came back the next season. As one of three members of Team Endurance, Dallas and his mates, Eddie Ahyakak and Sean Burch, beat out the other three-person teams to win the competition with complete strangers he’d never met before filming began. For season three, there’s another entirely new team in place – mountaineer Ben Jones and heli-ski guide Lel Tone. But for Seavey, the spirit of the show as far as he is concerned is intact.

While everyone has a background in some semblance of adventure sports to, in theory, handle the terrain – an earlier third-season episode saw the teams try to cross the swift currents of the Talkeetna River – it’s as much a mental as it is a physical grind. Seavey went so far as arguing the psychological effects can sink you more than having the fitness to traverse the Alaskan bush.

“Yes, you have to have the physical talent to do this stuff. And that’s not easy, but we almost take that for granted. The people who are out there are outdoor, active people,” he says. “But the real game comes down to the mental side. One of the major factors that gets often overlooked in these group situations: Here we are, warm and well fed and watered. But now let’s try it when we’re cold and miserable, and probably haven’t slept properly in several weeks, and are severely malnourished. Hunger is one of the biggest attitude changers out there.”

All the factors combined provide a thinking player’s game that has brought Seavey back for more of his second career on Ultimate Survival Alaska on top of success as a professional dog musher.

“Creativity and challenges are what I thrive on. That’s what I do when racing the Iditarod. We try to recognize a problem, break it down to its most basic elements and solve it,” he says. “Whether it’s building a new racing sled or coming up with new strategies in the Iditarod, it’s problem solving. There’s definitely a mad -scientist aspect for when you come to a crossroads of a problem that you don’t have an answer for.”

Dallas dogs side shot

DALLAS SEAVEY WAS at a crossroads once. Though his promising wrestling career was pinned by injuries, he knew the family business of rigging up dogs to a sled and traveling fast through the snow. Grandpa Dan did it; his father Mitch did it. It was what the names Andretti and Unser were to motorsports, Sutter to hockey, Williams to tennis and Manning to football. A Seavey is expected to successfully race dogs through the treacherous Alaskan wilderness.

“My granddad moved to Alaska in the 1960s to be an ‘Alaskan.’ When he helped start the Iditarod, it was as much fun to plan the race as it actually meant to go do it,” Dallas says of Iditarod Hall of Fame inductee Dan Sr., who as recently as 2012 competed in the race, at 74 years old. “They were trying to figure out if it was possible to run 1,000 miles across Alaska.”

The race has now gone international after its early years usually featured Alaskans only. Most of the members of the Seavey family, including Dallas’s wife Jennifer, have competed in at least one Iditarod. The Seavey kids were home-schooled, mostly so they could have access to the tasks of maintaining the Seward-based family business of raising and racing sled dogs (it’s now known as Seavey’s Ididaride Racing Team and Sled Dog Tours).  Mitch cared for more than 100 dogs at his kennel, and oldest brothers Danny, Tyrell and Dallas – they also have a fourth brother, aspiring singer Conway Seavey – were given various duties to make sure the dogs were fed and exercised.

Dallas made his Iditarod debut in 2005 at just 18 (the minimum age to compete) and was the youngest musher to finish the race, coming in 51st. But it wasn’t until 2009 that he was actually “competitively” racing in the event. He still seemed like a longshot to win the 2012 race, given that most previous winners were in their 30s, 40s or even 50s (Seavey said the average age of the previous 20 winners was 42). Conversely, his kennel, made up of dogs he purchased from his dad and other fellow mushers, was just 3 years old at that point. So it wasn’t as if he was known for grooming championship dogs.

“I was competing with these teams that had been going for 20 or 30 years. It’s a refining process, where you’re continually breeding from the best to the best of the best for the dogs. These dogs are just insane athletes. We were way behind the eight ball there,” Seavey says.

“It certainly seemed like from the outside, a 25-year-old racing in his fourth competitive Iditarod saying, ‘I’m going to win it and become the youngest winner ever,’ must have seemed either extremely arrogant or naïve; probably both. Maybe I was just naïve enough, just dumb enough, to believe that I could win the Iditarod. It doesn’t mean we have a lock on this race. But this was the first team I had that I knew had the potential to win – if we did everything right.”

Check. Seavey’s win was remarkable given the historical odds were so against him. This had been a sport where Father Time – like his dad – was an advantage over youthful enthusiasm. But here was the 25-year-old, a year before his father was dismissing the trend of mushers his age, winning the Last Great Race on Earth. He sat below Nome’s famed Burled Arch, sharing the stage with two of Seavey’s five lead dogs from the race, Diesel and Guinness. They were covered in yellow roses and showered with cheers from the crowd on Nome’s Front Street. Man and dogs were exhausted after such a grueling race (talk about ultimate Alaskan survival). He hugged both dogs, feeling as though winning the race was simply a bonus for appreciating what they accomplished.

It’s what this race is all about and carrying on the family’s legacy as some of Alaska’s storied sports’ personalities.

“It’s an incredible feeling. For 355 days a year I’m a dog musher, and to develop these dogs to their highest potential and to make each dog the best athlete that their genetic potential has allowed them and help them maximize that potential. That’s what a dog musher is, in my mind,” Seavey says. “For the other 10 days a year, give or take, we are focused on not necessarily winning the Iditarod, but running the best possible race. And if I run the team to the best of their ability, that is a goal met.”

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