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‘A total honor’: 2019 Iditarod champion Kaiser carries fellow race winner from Willow to Nome

Pete Kaiser traveled the trail with the ashes of inaugural race champion Dick Wilmarth
Bethel’s Pete Kaiser, who in 2019 became the first Yupik winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, took fifth place in the 50th running of the race on Tuesday
Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 1:53 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Bethel’s Pete Kaiser, who in 2019 became the first Yupik winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, took fifth place in the 50th running of the race on Tuesday.

With him was the race’s first ever champion, Richard “Dick” Wilmarth, who won the inaugural Iditarod in 1973.

“I was asked, kind of a last-minute thing before the race,” Kaiser said shortly after his finish. “The family of Dick Wilmarth, the first Iditarod winner, if I would carry a package of his ashes down the trail, along with his trading card from way back in the day.”

Wilmarth, a musher, miner, and trapper from Red Devil, was simultaneously the champion and rookie of the year in the 1973 edition of the race. After more than 20 days of mushing across Alaska, he won $12,000 for being the first to Nome that year, outracing 21 others in addition to the dozen teams that scratched.

He died in 2018 at the age of 75, having run and won the race just once.

“The family’s wish was just to go for a ride,” Kaiser said. “I was under some personal pressure from myself just from not finishing last year and really feeling like I just really wanted to get to the finish line this year. And when being asked to do that, I felt a real, more amount of pressure.”

For Kaiser, it was a successful finish in 2022, with his team arriving in Nome after 9 days, 6 hours, 45 minutes and 15 seconds on the Iditarod Trail. For Wilmarth, it was a second run of the Iditarod trail, and a completed journey to the Burled Arch for the first first-place finisher of the race.

“It was a total honor to do that,” Kaiser reflected. ”He’s from the Kuskokwim River, just like I am, and we’re both Iditarod winners. He was the first Iditarod winner, this is the 50th anniversary.

“So, pretty special to have him ride with me in the sled down the trail,” he said, “and just honored that his family asked me to do that.”

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