Pete Kaiser On His First Iditarod Win NPR's Melissa Block gets the reaction of this year's Iditarod winner, Pete Kaiser. Kaiser is the first musher of Yup'ik descent to win.
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Pete Kaiser On His First Iditarod Win

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Pete Kaiser On His First Iditarod Win

Pete Kaiser On His First Iditarod Win

Pete Kaiser On His First Iditarod Win

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NPR's Melissa Block gets the reaction of this year's Iditarod winner, Pete Kaiser. Kaiser is the first musher of Yup'ik descent to win.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) All right, Pete. Way to go, Pete.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Chants of way to go, Pete, from fans at Alaska's Iditarod Sled Dog Race cheering on musher Pete Kaiser as he and his eight-dog team crossed the finish line to victory in the wee hours this past Wednesday. It's the 31-year-old Kaiser's first Iditarod championship. His win has special meaning for Alaska Natives and in particular for Yup'ik Natives. Kaiser is the first musher of Yup'ik descent ever to win the thousand-mile race across snow and ice. And he joins me now from our member station KNOM in Nome where the race ends. Pete Kaiser, congratulations.

PETER KAISER: Thank you.

BLOCK: How does victory feel?

KAISER: It really - honestly, I've heard this from many different people that have won, but it hasn't sunk in. Like, you actually have to think about it pretty hard and you're like, oh, man, I actually won this.

BLOCK: Do you think your sled dogs have a sense that they did something special here?

KAISER: I think so. I mean, they - you know, they have an idea of when teams are in front of them on the trail or not. But they're real spunky right now and probably ready to go for another run, but they're going to get some good time off.

BLOCK: Well, people from your hometown of Bethel are really excited about your win. Let's listen to some reaction from folks in Bethel. That's in southwest Alaska along the Kuskokwim River. And these are voices that were gathered by Anna Rose MacArthur of our member station there, KYUK.

NELSON ALEXIE: It's about time somebody ran from Kuskokwim.

DEBRA SAMSON: And for him to be from Bethel, to be local, to be Yupik.

EVON WASKA: (Speaking Yup'ik).

BLOCK: We heard there from Nelson Alexie, Debra Samson and Evon Waska speaking in the Yup'ik language. He's saying, we Yup'ik people are very proud. Pete Kaiser, does it feel like you are carrying that banner of Yup'ik pride along with your own victory?

KAISER: It does feel like that now. I mean, that's been definitely something to be proud of and, you know, I'm very proud of where I come from and in the Bethel and the whole YK Delta.

BLOCK: It sounds like there were a lot of folks from Bethel who flew up to Nome for the finish.

KAISER: Yeah, we had a big crowd, and, you know, that's really, like, the most special thing of all this. You know, the new truck and the check and the trophy that's all - it's all awesome. But to see so many people come up from Bethel and feel the love and the support from even the Nome region, it really feels like all these western communities can really gather around something like this. And the first thing I think of about, you know, crossing the finish line is just seeing so many people cheering and crying, and it was amazing experience.

BLOCK: Yeah. Well, you're winning time was nine days, 12 hours, 39 minutes, six seconds, which I guess was not a fast pace. And we've been hearing a lot about how the warming climate has affected the race. Are you noticing those changes in the Iditarod, year to year?

KAISER: It's interesting. The last two years, we've had a lot of snow. So Nome here is just buried in snow and it's snowing again right now so - but, yeah, the temperatures have been pretty warm.

BLOCK: And did that slow things down?

KAISER: Yeah, certainly. Anytime you got fresh snow and drifted snow and warmer temperatures, you're going to have a slower rate. So the pace of the race is really more dictated by trail conditions and weather than dog teams.

BLOCK: Has Bethel had a winner before in the Iditarod?

KAISER: No.

BLOCK: Do you think you'll have a parade?

KAISER: (Laughter) There's been a lot of talk about different things and I feel like none of it's under my control, so we'll see what's - we'll see what happens.

BLOCK: Pete Kaiser, the first Iditarod champion of Yup'ik descent speaking with us from Nome, Alaska. Pete, do you want to give a shout out to your dogs? What are their names?

KAISER: My leaders are Morrow and Lucy and Frida. The rest of the team - Sky, Zuma, Charlie, Pronto, Arbor.

BLOCK: Well, Pete Kaiser, congratulations again. Thanks for talking to us.

KAISER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN DEACON'S "OF THE MOUNTAINS")

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