Ryan Redington on Tuesday won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, bringing his six dogs off the Bering Sea ice to the finish line on Nome’s main street.
Redington, 40, is the grandson of Joe Redington Sr., who helped co-found the arduous race across Alaska that was first held in 1973 and is known as the “Father of the Iditarod.”
“My grandpa, dad and Uncle Joee are all in the Mushing Hall of Fame. I got big footsteps to follow,” Ryan Redington wrote in his race biography. He previously won the Junior Iditarod in 1999 and 2000. His father, Raymie, is a 10-time Iditarod finisher.
Redington, who is Inupiat, becomes the sixth Alaska Native musher to win the world’s most famous sled dog race. After crossing the finish in Nome around 12:15 p.m., he said it has been a goal of his since he was “a very small child to win the Iditarod, and I can’t believe it. It finally happened.
“It took a lot work, took a lot of patience. And we failed quite a few times, you know? But we kept our head up high and stuck with the dream,” he said.
Redington won the Iditarod in his 16th try. He scratched from seven of those races, but his performance this decade has been the best of his career. He finished ninth last year, seventh in 2021 and eighth in 2020 – his only other top 10 finishes before this year’s race.
The nearly 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) race started March 5 in Willow for 33 mushers, who travelled over two mountain ranges, the frozen Yukon River and on the Bering Sea ice. Since then, three mushers have scratched. A fan-friendly ceremonial start was held in Anchorage the day before.
It was the smallest field ever to start a race, one short of the first race run.
Among those who scratched was defending champion Brent Sass, who was leading when he withdrew Saturday over concerns for his health. because of periodontal issues.
He was doing OK and resting in the community of Unalakleet, he posted on Instagram Sunday. The Iditarod was caring for his dogs, he said.
Sass said he had been sick the entire race with a bad cold. Then on Friday “some cracked teeth started giving me issues and over a 12-hour period turned into nearly unbearable pain,” he said. “My body basically shutdown and for two runs I just hung on. Ultimately I couldn’t care for the dogs.“
He said the colder temperatures, dipping to minus 30 F (minus 34 C), were making his dog team stronger, but it made him weaker.
For the first part of the race, mushers dealt with high temperatures, causing some to alter their strategies.
Redington will earn about $50,000 for winning. The exact amount won’t be calculated until the total number of finishers are known to split the prize purse.
The two mushers who were chasing him to Nome are also Alaska Natives, Pete Kaiser, who is Yup’ik and won the 2019 Iditarod, and Richie Diehl, who is Dena’ina Athabascan. Redington won the race in 8 days, 21 hours, 12 minutes and 58 seconds. Kaiser finished second, more than an hour behind Redington. Diehl was third, finishing about an hour behind Kaiser.
Redington splits his time between Alaska and Wisconsin. He trains his dogs in Brule, Wisconsin, in the fall and winter. He races in Alaska and Minnesota beginning in December. In the summers, he has a sled dog tour for tourists in the ski community of Girdwood, about 30 miles (48 kilometres) south of Anchorage.
In January 2022, Redington was training in northern Wisconsin when a snowmobile driver veered into his dog team, injuring two dogs, before speeding off.
One of the dogs, Wildfire, suffered a broken rear tibia, fibula and femur but recovered after multiple surgeries and started this year’s race. However, Redington dropped him at the checkpoint in Skwentna a day after the official start.
“His heart was there, but he was just a little sore,” Redington told the Iditarod Insider webpage.