‘This is what I’m meant to do’: Meet Iditarod 49 Rookie of the Year Chad Stoddard

Channel 2 Morning Edition (6 a.m.)
Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 6:07 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Iditarod 49 was unlike any other because of COVID-19. Many mushers opted out of the race this year because of the pandemic and other reasons. However, for the most recent race’s rookie of the year, Chad Stoddard, the changes didn’t hold him back.

“Knowing that it might be a different year, I elected to sign up for Iditarod, because I know how life works,” he said, “and sometimes you just have to seize opportunities that are in front of you.”

Stoddard said running the race was a long time coming. He finished in 23rd place out of the 36 mushers who made it back to Deshka Landing.

He was born in Anchorage, raised and educated in Washington and came back to Alaska after college to work with dogs for the first time with Alaska Icefield Expeditions. Then he moved back to the Lower 48 in Wyoming, where he helped with mushing tours for another Iditarod veteran, Billy Snodgrass.

Stoddard said the thought of running the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race really got in his head in 2014 when he was mushing dogs on the Mendenhall Glacier.

What got him on the runners in the first place, though, was a woman with whom he is still with today.

“It was really through Ibi that I kind of got involved with dogs,” Stoddard said. “Fell in love with Ibi first, and the dogs secondarily. But over time, just sort of grew to love Ibi and the dogs more and more.”

While Ibi put the love of the dogs in his heart, he said mushing was already in his blood.

In the 1920s, his great grandfather William Burk Sr. delivered mail via dog team in Nenana. That’s right around when the serum run happened. Stoddard didn’t even know about Burk until after he ran his first Iditarod qualifier, the Copper Basin 300. He said he found out shortly after he finished that race, adding that the discovery was extremely emotional for him.

“I think as people, we’re always trying to find out kind of who we are and our purpose in where we’re going,” he said. “When that hit me, it was like, ‘this is what I’m meant to do.’”

Since becoming a musher, Stoddard said he’s had the privilege of working with and meeting some of the greatest names in mushing such as Lance Mackey, Dick Mackey, George Attla, and Aliy Zirkle. He trained with Lance Mackey at his kennel in 2018, when he really started working toward the Iditarod.

Stoddard’s team comprised nine dogs from Sven Haltmann, with the other five coming from Torsten Kohnert.

He said his favorite parts of the race were some of those that other mushers called “insane”; Stoddard particularly enjoyed the glare ice and steep hills around Rohn.

“There’s almost no way to control the dogs. You just really have to rely on your leaders. Hopefully, they know to stay on the trail and things like that,” he said. “Those were some of the more challenging areas. I really enjoy the technical aspects of driving the sled down those steep hills and corners.”

Still, he said there was some relief when he approached the finish line, but that wasn’t his only emotion.

“It was also kind of a sad feeling because I knew that potentially this team and myself and all of us would never, you know, it would never quite be the same group again,” Stoddard said.

At this point, Stoddard said there’s “no looking back now.” He is planning on running more races and said he is looking at competing in Iditarod again, but he didn’t confirm whether or not he would be present for Iditarod 50. He said “he needs to get his ducks in a row” first.

One thing he did miss out on was waving to the crowds of people on 4th Ave. at the Ceremonial Start. He said he’s looking forward to the next one where he’ll be a rookie in that aspect. Safe to say, he may have a few fans to wave to – with his Rookie of the Year title – whenever that happens.

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