4 mushers say 2019 is their last Iditarod. Their final act remains to be seen.
"This is it. No, really I mean it."
Sure, it sounds more like a hollow parental threat than a departure, but in the case of four mushers on the trail, it's true. This really is it.
This is their last Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race — at least competitively.
Charley Benja is at it for the seventh and final time. As the owner of a landscaping and snow removal business in Illinois, he spends his summers there. However, the Midwest has been battered this winter. Subsequently, he's often found himself on the phone in the middle of the night organizing snow removal efforts. It's good for business, but not restful nights.
"It's obviously going to be really emotional at the finish line but I'm going to come back and volunteer and see what I can do on the trail and put my dues in as far as helping out," he says.
He'll continue to run the smaller races plus his work with the Iditarod will keep him connected.
Cindy Abbott will also run dogs for fun, but she too is winding it up. Over the years, she's battled numerous injuries including a broken pelvis and a bad shoulder in a fall. It's more about Father Time.
"I was only supposed to run once and this is my fifth time and I'm 60," she said, "so I think it's really cool to go out doing the last race at age 60. I think that's pretty awesome."
Marcelle Fressineau has also made the decision to go out. When asked why, the 64-year-old musher from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory didn't hesitate.
"Because I'm old, it's expensive and if I want to race I have to work until I'm 80 years old," she said with a laugh.
Fressineau is certainly not old but she no doubt has earned the time off; this is her fourth race.
Cindy Gallea has most experience in the group of mushers who say this is it. She's run the Last Great Race 14 times.
Mushers are like boxers. They sometimes come back because it's hard for them to stay away. In the case of these four, life may be leading them away from the action, but their many combined years of sled dog racing shows that the love runs deep.
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