For Iditarod winner Peter Kaiser, mushing is a family affair
At 3:39 a.m. Wednesday, Peter Kaiser became the first musher from Bethel to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Many from the area gathered at the burled arch in Nome to congratulate him, including his parents.
“It’s wonderful and overwhelming,” said Janet Kaiser, Peter's mother. “Tears and laughter at the same time.”
Janet says mushing runs in the family. She managed the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race and is a longtime race volunteer with her husband, Ron Kaiser, who introduced their son to the sport.
The first race Peter ever won was the Akiak Dash in high school. In 2009, he entered his first K-300. Since then, he has won the K-300 four times in a row, a feat no other musher has accomplished. It’s that kind of competition his family says shaped his mushing career.
The K-300 is a mid-distance race that runs from Bethel to Aniak and back, regularly featuring the top contenders in the Iditarod. One race tradition is mushers stay with a host family. In most cases, these families are like the Kaisers, with dog yards and a passion for the sport. This way, they learn from experienced mushers like Kotzebue’s Ed Iten, who Janet says mentored her son.
“My Pete became a student of raising dogs and everything it took to become a dog musher,” Janet said. “Ed Iten shared everything he knows.”
But Janet says if Pete has a hero, it’s local musher Myron Angstman, who started the K-300 race in 1980. She says Angstman and his family have kept the spirit of mushing alive in the region.
Angstman was also at the finish line to congratulate Peter. He says Peter's a winner who comes from a grassroots mushing background, completely different than those who emerge from the established kennels.
“Pete started from scratch,” Angstman said. “He built slowly and learned slowly. Our program makes that possible, because we have lots of local races and modest prize money that helps.”
Angstman says Bethel is a community with a vibrant mushing culture. While the town has hosted many mushing stars over the years, he says it's good to see one rise from a family like the Kaisers, who embraced the sport as part of life.
Janet, an Alaska Native of Yup’ik heritage, works as an academic advisor at the Kuskokwim College. Ron is a maintenance man at the same school.
Peter's great-grandfather was a gold miner, who also mushed dogs, and was hired for trips to Bristol Bay. His great grandmother was orphaned after an epidemic and raised in a mission orphanage.
Pete's wife, Bethany Hoffman Kaiser, is also from a family with Alaska Native roots. They have a son named Ari Joseph and a daughter named Aylee.
Kaiser is the first musher of Yup’ik descent to win the Iditarod. He and his team of eight dogs arrived on Front Street to the sounds of Native dancing and drumming.
“It’s a dream come true for us,” Janet Kaiser said of her son. “A dream come true.”
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