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Episode 98: Iditarod of yesteryear – Breaking trail

By KTVA Alaska 3:39 PM March 13, 2017

A sign of a good book or a movie is how it can be enjoyed at different levels. Some people follow it for the plot, others for the main characters, or sometimes the backstory.

The Iditarod is much the same. Some race fans focus on the first musher to cross the finish line. Others have their eyes on the up and comers, or racers they’ve followed for years.

Bottom line: You don’t have to be an expert on dog mushing to enjoy following the race — but the more you learn, the more fascinating it becomes.

This week on Frontiers, we focus on the dogs themselves, because they really are the stars of the show.

Take the Seavey family, which has dominated the Iditarod in recent years.

Their success story has its roots in a lineage of dogs, which go back 50 years or more.

Some of this week’s highlights:

  • Seavey dog yard dynasty: We visit with Dan Seavey, who ran the very first Iditarod in 1973. He talks about how the Seavey lineage harkens back to the Siberian sled dogs run by Leonhard Seppala, best known for his role in the 1925 serum run to Nome. Dan also shares some of the stories in his book, “The First Great Race.”
  • Joe May’s Iditarod: Joe May won the Iditarod in 1980 and says dogs back then may have been slow and more suited to hauling freight, but today’s racier-looking teams would have had a tougher time on the trails of yesteryear.
  • Featured guests: Donna Gentry Massay, one of the first female Iditarod mushers, and Dr. Phil Meyer, a longtime Iditarod veterinarian, look at changes over the years, in both the dogs and the race itself.
  • Visit to Northern Lights ABC School: Students use the book “Iditarod The First Ten Years” to learn about the race. The Old Iditarod Gang, which published the book, has a campaign to put a book in every Alaska school.

I hope you enjoy some of the archival footage from the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association and the University of Alaska Fairbanks film archives. By comparing teams from then and now, you can really see how the dogs have evolved with the race.

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