Iditarod veterans prepare for the 2018 race

Kelly Maixner and his team from the 2016 Iditarod. Photo by Katie Writer – KTNA.

by: Katie Writer – KTNA

After running six Iditarods, Kelly Maixner got out of racing dogs and focused on dentistry and time with his young family. But his love of the sport could not keep him away.

The small world of the dog mushing community demonstrates that anything is possible by the way that Maixner put together a team from well known dog mushers who are happy to see their dogs run another trip to Nome.

“I ran into Lance Mackey randomly at the dog food store maybe a month or two ago. And he said that he wasn’t running the Iditarod so that I could use all of the dogs he had been running in mid distance races. So that is a big chunk of my team. I’ve got probably four good leaders out of there.”

Maixner has a mix match of dogs he calls the ‘Scrappy Team’ from Ray Redington,  Cym Smyth, as well as dogs from Mitch and Dallas Seavey. In the past three weeks, he has been learning about all of the personalities of dogs coming from so many different kennels.

“I’ve got most of their personalities figured out. But it’s definitely a game where you have to figure out who likes who, who does well next to who and who doesn’t intimidate who.”

Maixner knows the challenges weather and high winds can pose during the Iditarod and has made some adjustments to his sled for better tracking on ice.

Unlike many sports, mushing has no age limit for the top contenders. Four time Iditarod Champion, Jeff King feels in excellent form this year at age 62.

“I can look back over my career and realize, some of the years that I have done the best were

Jeff King and his team on Long Lake in Willow at the start of the 2016 Iditarod. Photo by Katie Writer – KTNA

years I went into the race just saying, you know, winning isn’t what’s important, doing this, executing it perfectly is important.”

King also has some firm beliefs about the speeds at which the dogs are running the Iditarod.

“I absolutely feel that the condition of the dogs at the finish line in general is absolutely better than it was twenty years ago in all the teams throughout the race and most certainly the top twenty. You can’t make them go faster by making them be uncomfortable.”

“You want to know why we are going faster, you look at Iditarod’s website, and the amount of energy they’re spending with the trail. You look at what the eight or ten guys out there have done to build just make one ice bridge in the Dazall Gorge, and you think that 10, 20 most certainly 40 years ago there wasn’t necessarily a trail at all. It’s like comparing the AlCan Highway of 1949 with the AlCan Highway of 2018.”

Jeff King and his lead dog, Swenson. Photo courtesy of Jeff King.

The sport of long distance dog racing continues to be scrutinized by animal rights groups.

In all of 28 Iditarods and 10 Yukon Quest in which King has run, he has lost one dog and that was due to a drunk driver. He highlights the quality of the life his sled dogs enjoy.

“I can assure you that I believe in my heart and soul that statistics bear out the joy and love and quality of life that my dogs have, is way higher than many many many other licensed pets in this country, much less around the world. If somebody really wanted to make an impact with the welfare of animals, they’re barking up the wrong tree with this group.”

The Iditarod has a powerful impact as fans and enthusiast watch from the villages, classrooms, and people’s homes from around the world. After all of the extensive preparation for the Iditarod, the racers and their dogs are more than ready to hit the trail.

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