For Iditarod Winner, A Legacy Of Loving Dogs

2012 Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey's team climbs a hill. Seavy has guest riders on his sled for the ceremonial start of the race.

hide caption2012 Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey's team climbs a hill. Seavy has guest riders on his sled for the ceremonial start of the race.

Frank Kovalchek/Flickr

After more than a week of grueling days on a dog sled, Dallas Seavey won 2012's Iditarod, beating his father and grandfather in the process. The race took off from Willow, Alaska, on March 4, Seavey's 25th birthday. Nine days, 4 hours and 29 minutes later, he crossed the finish line in Nome as the youngest musher ever to win the race.

Seavey talks with NPR's Neal Conan about the extreme conditions of the Iditarod, from freezing dogs to sleepless nights, and what it means to be in a legacy racing family.


Interview Highlights

On his family business: racing sled dogs

"My grandfather has been raising sled dogs since 1963, prior to there ever being an Iditarod. And he ... actually competed in the very first Iditarod. ...

"This is the 40th anniversary of the Iditarod. And he's the only one that competed in the first race that was really fit enough to take on the trail now again at 74 years old. My dad, he just completed his 19th Iditarod. ... [His career] is just, you know, riddled with top-10 finishes and, of course, his victory in 2004. So this is certainly a family affair."

On his lead dogs, Guinness and Diesel

"These dogs, this breed as a whole is a phenomenal animal, and we have the utmost respect for all of them. So Guinness and Diesel may have the privilege of being the poster [children] for the Alaskan husky, but they represent the breed as a whole. ...

  • Dallas Seavey holds his leaders, Diesel (left) and Guinness, after arriving at the finish line to claim victory in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. At 25, Seavey is the youngest Iditarod champion ever.
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    Dallas Seavey holds his leaders, Diesel (left) and Guinness, after arriving at the finish line to claim victory in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. At 25, Seavey is the youngest Iditarod champion ever.
    Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News/Landov
  • A musher heads into the Finger Lake checkpoint in Alaska on March 5.
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    A musher heads into the Finger Lake checkpoint in Alaska on March 5.
    Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News/Landov
  • The aurora borealis swirls in the sky over the Yukon River village of Ruby, Alaska, a checkpoint of the race, on Friday.
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    The aurora borealis swirls in the sky over the Yukon River village of Ruby, Alaska, a checkpoint of the race, on Friday.
    Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News/Landov
  • Toby, a leader for musher Nicolas Petit, rests in straw in Nikolai, Alaska, on March 6.
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    Toby, a leader for musher Nicolas Petit, rests in straw in Nikolai, Alaska, on March 6.
    Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News/Landov
  • Peter Kaiser drives his team into the checkpoint in Unalakleet, Alaska, on Sunday.
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    Peter Kaiser drives his team into the checkpoint in Unalakleet, Alaska, on Sunday.
    Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News/Landov
  • A thousand dogs and 66 mushers hit the trail during the official restart in Willow, Alaska, on March 4.
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    A thousand dogs and 66 mushers hit the trail during the official restart in Willow, Alaska, on March 4.
    Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/Landov
  • Karin Hendrickson hugs her leader, Hatchet, in Takotna, Alaska, on March 8.
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    Karin Hendrickson hugs her leader, Hatchet, in Takotna, Alaska, on March 8.
    Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News/Landov

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"Guinness is turning 9 years old, and she has raced in every major race that I have competed in. And she's been my lead dog in almost every one of them. This year, when she's, you know, getting a little bit older, she did less leading in the race, but I can communicate with her so well. She always went in lead when we had very difficult steering to be done. You know, she'll take step for step by my command. It's like having a remote-control dog up there.

"And what really inspires me about Guinness is just her enthusiasm. Not just for mushing, but for life, you know, in every aspect. And every time it's time to go, she is barking and screaming her head off, lunging against the line. She is the smallest dog in my team, but she's got the biggest heart. Now, she's not a big fan of big crowds of people. Sled dogs, like myself, honestly, spend a lot of time out in the wilderness with our pack, our team. And, you know, so when we come into Nome and there's thousands of people there, it's a little overwhelming. But there again, I was impressed with her bravery, and as long as Dad says it's OK, then we're going to go right through the middle of this crowd. She just bulldogs her way right to the finish line there. Just a lot of spunk in that little dog.

"Now, Diesel, he is younger. He's only 5 years old, and he's actually the largest dog in my team. And he is really just becoming that superstar leader. He has the athletic talent to be the best dog in the world. ... But ... he's not overly confident, and that's something we've been developing and working on for many years.

"And that's why now as a 5-year-old, he's finally becoming confident enough to be a real solid lead dog. So he spent most of his career kind of working his way up in the team, developing that athletic ability. And now that he is confident enough to be a lead, he is such a supreme athlete that it's not even difficult for him. It makes the position much easier being the athlete that he is."

On caring for the dogs during the race

"If we do have a casualty on the race, it's typically going to be some sort of a heart arrhythmia or something of that nature; that's the same thing that's going to get the top marathon runners. You have perfectly fit human beings running, you know, 26.2 miles, and there's a sudden death issue, and that's the sort of thing we've run into [in] the past with this race.

"But now, with better scanning prior to the race, every single dog has an EKG. ... We take blood samples to make sure that all their levels are acceptable and they're in fit, you know, fit condition to go into the race. Prior to the race, they have three different vet exams ... and then during the race, the dogs are checked at every single checkpoint along the way. ...

"I have done mouth-to-mouth with some older dogs in my kennel in the past, always with great results, and that's something as a musher you need to know how to do. It's like being a lifeguard that doesn't know how to do CPR. I mean, it's kind of a prerequisite."

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