Thursday, March 1st – Musher Banquet

John Baker won last year’s Iditarod, and one of his sponsors held a reception Wednesday night at the Millenium hotel.  Teachers were invited, and what an honor to hear John speak.  John is an Inupiat, the first Eskimo to win the Iditarod (and only the second Native Alaskan to win).  He is a quiet, humble man, and has a gentle presence about him.  John was gracious after the reception, signing autographs and posing for photos.

I have integrated the Iditarod into my curriculum for about the past 7 or 8 years.  Students have chosen mushers to follow during the race, and they’ve researched various information about their mushers, including their background, their achievements, family life, and what they do when they are not mushing.  Over the years students have created scrapbooks, videos, on-line posters (Glogsters) and various other projects to showcase their knowledge.  I have read so much about the mushers that at times I’ve felt like I know them.  At the Musher banquet, I had the opportunity to actually meet many of them.

The banquet room was HUGE!  Tables were set up for each of the mushers with name tags on the tables.  For those of us *not* mushing, there were tables with our reserved number on them.  I ran around the room snapping pictures of mushers’ names, still not quite believing they would all be in one room before long. 

This picture gives you an idea of how large the room is:

Mushers started arriving, and Jeff Schultz was also there to take photographs.  Jeff is the official Iditarod photographer and does some fantastic work.  I was excited to get his autograph.  DeeDee Jonrowe was also there early, signing autographs for her many fans.

The room started to buzz as more mushers came into the banquet hall.  Jeff King (left) has won the Iditarod four times, and Rick Swenson (right) is the only five-time winner.  King retired after the 2010 Iditarod, but said he found retirement “boring.” Many speculate he will be a huge contender this year. 

Jeff King (left), Rick Swenson (right)

After dinner, the mushers began to draw for their bib numbers.  When they first sign up to run the Iditarod they are given a number, and that number is the order in which they draw (this is the number on the tables).  At the banquet, each musher comes up onto the stage, thanks his sponsors, and then draws a number.  That number will be the order in which they will start both the Ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, and the official re-start in Willow on Sunday.  The comments were fun to listen to – seemed like no one wanted to be way up in the front, but nor did they want to be in the back of the pack.  Rohn Buser drew number 62 and said, “Well, I guess I’ll just have a lot of people to pass.” 

After the mushers drew for their numbers, they exited off of the stage and signed 1000 autographs.  They were all patient, friendly, and seemed to really appreciate their fans.  We were near the photographer so I was able to get a few pics although the lighting was odd making it challenging to get a good picture!


I was truly amazed at how friendly almost all of the mushers were.  Most were happy to pose for a picture and make conversation.  The two Berington twins (Anna and Christy) were excited to have drawn numbers close to each other.  Lance Mackey was hilarious, cracking jokes all the way down the line as he happily signed autographs.  Dan Seavey was one of my favorites as he was one of the last to come through.  He was quiet but friendly, asking where I was from.  I told him and he smiled and congratulated me on the award.  He is the only musher here who ran in the very first Iditarod (and second).  His son, Mitch, and grandson, Dallas, are also racing this year.  Another grandson, Conway, just won the Junior Iditarod last week, so perhaps there will be a fourth Seavey on the Iditarod trail soon.

Ed Sielstra was the last musher to come through and he gratefully thanked us for waiting until the end.  We were some of the last folks to leave, and Lance Mackey was still there, signing autographs. 

After we left the banquet, we walked through the park to see the lights on the trees.  Tonight we learned that people are asked to turn on their lights, and leave them burning until the last musher crossed the Burled Arch at the finish line in Nome.


About merryfwilliams

High school math teacher and mom of 3 amazing kids. I have a high maintenance husky and am adding a knitting obsession to the juggling routine. @merryfwilliams on Twitter
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