Ryan Redington wins Iditarod 51!
By Diana Haecker
Ryan Redington, 40, fulfilled a dream —not only for him but his entire Redington family clan —by winning the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race on Tuesday, shortly after noon, when he pulled under the burled arch with his team of six dogs. He finished the race in eight days, 21 hours, 12 minutes and 58 seconds on the trail, which followed the southern route this year. Overcome with emotions, his father Raymie and mother Barb Redington greeted their son at the end of the trail that meant so much to their family over generations. Fifty-one years ago, the Last Great Race was born out of a dream to keep the lifestyle of sled dog mushing and the breed of Alaskan huskies alive at a time when the snowmachine was taking over as means of transportation in Alaska. But it was the dream of Ryan’s grandfather Joe Redington Sr., known as the Father of the Iditarod, to perpetuate the tradition of a working dog breed, and mushing in Alaska. A crazy dream, they said back then, to mush dogs from Anchorage to Nome in a race. But the event has endured, albeit in its 51st running with the smallest field ever since its inception. On this sunny Tuesday in Nome, the town, mushing fans around the globe and the Redingtons were celebrating a new champion sitting on the 2023 Iditarod throne. Under blue skies, a good crowd stretching down Front Street to almost the Board of Trade Saloon, awaited the winner. Due to a fire at the public works building, the customary siren, which usually announces the arrival of every musher, stayed silent. But then, the flashing lights of the police car escort signaled the arrival of Redington. Front Street erupted in cheers as Redington’s dogs trotted proudly towards the finish chute. Redington got off the sled, running alongside the dog team, pumping his arms in the air. He was greeted by his mother, who then proceeded to feed the dogs thick slices of pork bellies while the Nome checker Nicolle Wisniewski checked the mandatory gear officially signed Redington’s race into the history books.
Redington hugged his lead dogs Ghost and Sven, greeted the crowd on both sides of the finishing chute and then gave a brief interview, broadcasted for all to hear. A fortune cookie that he cracked open at the musher’s banquet in Anchorage at the beginning of the race, was the lucky omen. It said: “Number five will be your lucky number.” Redington then drew number five as his starting position, in his 16th running of the race. “I thought about all along the way,” he said. It was his goal ever since he was a child, to win the Iditarod. “I can’t believe it. It took a lot of work. It took a lot of patience. We failed quite a few times, but we kept our head up high and stuck with the dream,” he said. He thanked his partner Sarah for helping him train and keeping him organized.
He acknowledged his upbringing in a family dedicated to dog mushing and being privy to wisdom gleaned from years of racing by his dad, uncles and brothers. “It’s a doggy life for all of us,” he said. Winning the Iditarod was a goal that they worked towards. “Working every day, no days off.”
Redington and his lead dogs Ghost and Sven were presented with the garland of roses, while posing for the obligatory photo at the Iditarod champion podium. He was presented with a $51,500 winner’s check, out of a total purse of $500,000. After the dogs were taken to the dog lot to be cared for, Redington answered questions from media and the public at the Mini Convention Center. He recounted the last 44 miles from Topkok to Nome as one of the most challenging conditions on the race. “Once we got up to Topkok it got windier and all I could see was the wheeldogs,” he said. “It was marker to marker, I had to stop several times, put the hook in and look at every direction for a trail marker. It was crazy, but with the big lead we had I was patient, I didn’t get excited, I didn’t worry about speed, I talked to the dogs and told them they were doing good.”
He said didn’t allow himself to think about winning until he got real close to the finish line. “I’ve been racing enough to know that anything can happen in a dog race. So I tried hard to think not about winning. I just tried to get down the trail, happy and fast.”
He thanked Pete Kaiser and Richie Diehl nipping at his heels pretty much since Eagle Island. “Although we were racing real hard, they were great sports,” he said. “They were asking me how I was doing. When Richie was talking to me at Koyuk he asked how things are going and I was like ‘meh’. And he said, ‘Ryan, we don’t got too far to go.’”