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One last ride? Iditarod veteran Aaron Burmeister contemplates future after nearly 3 decades of racing

Published: Jan. 29, 2022 at 11:53 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Nome-based musher Aaron Burmeister arrived at Northern Air Cargo earlier this week with his pickup truck hauling a Flat Dog Kennels trailer with his sled, gear, food and his world class canine athletes.

“How do you remember all their names? They look alike,” a passerby asked Burmeister.

“They’re your kids,” Burmeister replied. “You remember their names, their barks, their personalities.”

As he was unloading his dogs, Burmeister greeted each one individually and provided comfort ahead of the flight to Bethel. The Iditarod veteran and his “kids” were loading up for the Kuskokwim 300, a premiere mid-distance race, through longtime Burmeister and Iditarod sponsor Northern Air Cargo.

“It makes it possible for us to travel to these races and to live in the Bush and be in and out of Nome with the dogs, with food, and freight, and meat, and all the supplies that we need for traveling and it really, really makes it possible,” he said.

Burmeister, signed up for the 50th running of the Iditarod March 6 which will restart in Willow, focuses first on the K300, one of his favorite tune-up races for his team.

“They’ve built a thriving dog mushing community in the YK-Delta and kudos to the K300, it is a race I would always like to support and help and be a part of...We go to the K300 to evaluate the team, to get them around the course, to see lots of family, friends, and people, and volunteers and to celebrate the sport in another part of the state,” he said.

Following the race that begins in Bethel and goes to Aniak and back, Burmeister will turn his attention towards the Iditarod, a grueling 1,000-mile trail across the Alaskan terrain he has completed in 20 times.

“This race is my life...As a toddler on I hung out at the finish line of Iditarod running dogs and playing around it and volunteering and just being a sponge, learning everything I could,” Burmeister said of the Iditarod.

After six top 10 finishes from 2009-2020, Burmeister was unable to hold off eventual 2021 champion Dallas Seavey, placing second for his best Iditarod finish to date. However, the 2022 race may be his final crack at the elusive Iditarod championship.

“You know, that is really hard to say, I will never say it is going to be my last Iditarod,” Burmeister said. “But I’ve been racing it since, my rookie year was when I was 18 in 1994. My son is 14 years old now, my daughter is 9 years old, the kids are growing up and there’s other things, there are activities that I would like to prioritize a little bit.”

The 2022 Iditarod will conclude in Nome as traditionally intended after seeing a Deshka Landing finish in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Iditarod is something that I love, so I am never going to say it is going to be a final race, but there may be other chapters that come up and the dogs will hopefully still be racing...It’s something special about Alaska that I love,” Burmeister said.

Born and raised in historic mushing community, bringing an Iditarod title back to Nome would be the greatest feat of his storied mushing career.

“Bringing it back home to Nome would be a dream come true. I mean the community has been a supporter of mine since childhood. They watched me grow up and (have) been a part of it. I try to volunteer as much as I can at home around other events and to sports stuff going on today. It’s something that it’d be an honor and a privilege.” he said. “I can’t imagine it or even put it into words. It is such an honor just to finish the Iditarod, to be able to bring a victory home to Nome, I will have to see when that time comes, it is hard to imagine.”

Burmeister added that no matter what his future in competitive mushing holds, he will always have his “kids”.

“We’re always going to have dogs. Dogs are something that I have grown up with. I’ve had them my whole life,” Burmeister said.

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