Awards banquet in Nome wraps up Iditarod festivities

The last great race wraps up with the Iditarod Banquet
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 4:34 PM AKDT
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NOME, Alaska (KTUU) - The full list of award winners for the 51st running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was finalized at the awards banquet in Nome on Sunday.

Ryan Redington won the ultimate prize by winning the 51st running of the Iditarod and in doing so, became the first in his historic family to win the race. Redington — and two of his dogs — won a few more accolades at the banquet.

This year’s champion of the Junior Iditarod Emily Robinson spoke eloquently about this year’s race that honored the late great Lance Mackey.

“Lance Mackey was a man who took his team of dogs to the next level. His dogs were his life and through what they could accomplish, gave him life purpose,” Robinson said.

“He and his dogs were a force — an inspiration, an aspiration. He will go down in the history books not for who he was, but for who he was when he was driving his team of his best friends. He was the perfect example of a dog man — a man that was a better human because of his dogs.”

Robinson urged her fellow mushers to keep dog sled racing alive in memory of this year’s honorary musher.

“He will never be forgotten because he will always be alive at events such as this one. He will forever inspire new mushers to dream big and overcome hardships, because if Lance can do it so can they,” Robinson said.

Far from the only Mackey to be honored, Lance’s brother Jason earned the race’s Most Inspirational award chosen by his fellow competitors. Mackey’s impressive run from White Mountain to Nome reminded race competitors and fans of the indomitable spirit that permeates the race and its history.

Unseasonably warm temperatures and digestion issues weren’t enough to stop down Mackey and his team, who struggled with speed from the start. With just five dogs in harness for the final 123 miles — sometimes slowing to a pace just above walking speed — Mackey endured in his first race since 2017 and first since closing and then rebuilding his racing kennel. Mackey’s resilience and fortitude, while completely unsurprising to anyone who has ever met a Mackey, also earned him the Red Lantern award as the final musher into Nome.

Mackey carried the ashes of his mother and brother Lance down the trail for one last ride during the race that named Lance its honorary musher. When presented with the Red Lantern award, Mackey reflected on the meaning of winning in this year’s race.

“My wife, brought it to my attention at the end of the race, when I got this, that it was meant to be. I didn’t quite understand what she meant, but it’s like a my flame out for my brother,” Mackey said, referring to the lamp that stays lit until the final musher crosses the finish line.

Mackey received a free entry to next year’s race as part of his award.

Fairbanks mushers Deke Naaktgeboren said Mackey was an inspiration for another reason — reminding mushers not to run their dogs in too much heat.

“It’s so funny that Jason Mackey won the most inspirational award because he inspired me to not go run my dogs in the heat on those first three days and it drove me crazy but we sat there and talked about how hot it was. I am just so overwhelmed, this means the world to me.”

A stunned Naaktgeboren received the coveted Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award given each year to a musher determined by the veterinary team to have the best dog care while remaining competitive.

“Wow, that’s going to be the greatest thing that I have ever achieved in my life to this point,” Naaktgeboren said.

The award for sportsmanship went to Hunter Keefe, who assisted fellow rookie Eddie Burke Jr. after he lost his team. Keefe spent the majority of his race’s waking hours singing to himself and dancing along — a habit he didn’t break when he loaded Burke Jr. onto his sled.

“Thanks Eddie, it was really special to share my dog team with you in that moment because they were just incredible, and to share it with another musher was really incredible,” Keefe said. “I was actually kind of bummed out that he got picked up by the snowmachine because we really wanted to mush to Eagle Island together,” Keefe said.

A complete list of award winners is below.

2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Awards

Alaska Air Transit Spirit of Alaska Award - Ryan Redington

GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award - Wade Marrs

First Musher to the Yukon Award - Jessie Holmes

Bristol Bay Native Corporation First Fish Award - Ryan Redington

Ryan Air Gold Coast Award - Ryan Redington

Northrim Bank Achieve More Award - Ryan Redington

Rookie of the Year Award - Eddie Burke Jr.

Nome Kennel Club Fastest Time from Safety to Nome - Nic Petit

Most Improved Musher Award - Matt Failor

Donlin Gold Sportsmanship Award - Hunter Keefe

Most Inspirational Musher Award - Jason Mackey

Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award - Bridgett Watkins

Golden Clipboard Award - Grayling Checkpoint

Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award presented by the Pike Dog Wellness First Initiative - Deke Naaktgeboren

City of Nome Lolly Medley Memorial Golden Harness Award - Ghost and Sven (Ryan Redington’s team)

Lynden “Committed through the Last Mile” Red Lantern Award - Jason Mackey