There was a time when Lev Shvarts only had one dog, but that didn’t last long.

“Dogs are like potato chips, you can’t have just one,” he says.

He now has about 30, but he didn’t grow up mushing dogs.

“I was born in the Soviet Union, doesn’t exist anymore, good for us all,” he said.

His family then moved to Boston when he was young. He graduated college with an engineering degree and a good-paying job.

“I remember sitting at my desk while doing fancy engineering work and thinking, ‘Man, I’d love to run Iditarod someday, but oh, it’ll never happen.’ Here we are. I just got up one day and made it happen.”

Shvarts ran the Iditarod in 2014, but ended with a scratch. His sled was held together with twine after just one day on the rough trail.

“I was about 15 miles outside of Rhone,” Shvarts says. “I didn’t have the equipment to get me down the trail to put it technically. In plain English — my sh*t was busted up.”

He’s got a new sled now. And even more determination.

“I’ve wanted to do this for the better part of 11 years,” he says. “Not going again is not an option.”

His team runs four times a week on the trails outside his home in Willow. It’s a clear day. About 15 below zero. Denali rises from the frozen swamp that he runs his dogs on. This is why he came to Alaska.

“This is awesome, and I feel like I’ve died and gone to a very cold version of heaven,” Shvarts says. “It’s been everything I could want it to be with dessert on top.”

He says his dogs look good, and all he’s asking is that they get him to Nome.

“Belt buckle!” he proclaims. ” I just want to finish.”

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