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Lance Mackey just made history in the Iditarod 2010, and set an unprecedented record in the history of dog-sledding. Snow draped mountains, frozen rivers, wind swept tundra, a forbidding and frozen Bering Sea, and over 1000 miles of the most beautiful and desolate scenery imaginable set the stage. Mackey accomplished what no other musher in the history of the race has managed in its 38 year history – – win 4 straight races. Do we call that a 3-peat or a 4-peat? Or, since it’s a race with dogs, a 4-feet? (Yeah, I know, that’s pretty bad.)
Mackey set a new standard in a race that has many historic names and accomplishments. Doug Swingley won 3 straight from 1999-2001. Susan Butcher won 3 straight from 1986-1988, then one more in 1990. Jeff King also won 4 races, although not consecutively: 1993, 1996, 1998, 2006. And one racer, Rick Swenson, won 5 times: 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1991.
The race has seen its sponsors and its purse steadily decrease over the last 2 years due to an anemic economy. While the winnings totaled $ 935,000 in 2008, this year’s total purse is only $ 525,000 – – close to a 50% decrease. And while the winnings have been decreasing, the costs for the mushers have been steadily increasing. Estimated costs for a year of training and care of the dogs plus equipment run in the vicinity of $ 50,000. Cost for this year’s race was a $ 4000 entry fee plus an estimated $ 10,000 for transportation of dogs, equipment and race supplies.
How does that effect the mushers? Zack Steer, a 2008 musher, who decided to skip the 2009 race sited his reason as, “Of course finances were a factor. They raised the entry fee 20% and cut the purse 30%. It used to be that if you finished in the top 20, you could cover all of your expenses. Now you have to finish in the top 10 to break even.”* Who knows what that magic number is for the 2010 race or what it will be in future races? Mackey, as this year’s winner, takes home $ 50,400 and a new truck. Does that cover his total costs? Only he and the other mushers can accurately answer that question.
The Iditarod and the mushers need our help to keep this great race alive in the years to come. If you are a fan of the Iditarod or mushing in general and would like to assist your favorite musher and his/her team to make ends meet, there is a way.
For more information on how you can help, please go to http://www.showyoursupport.ws
* Thanks for the Zack Steer quote from an article by Mike Campbell, “Iditarod purse slashes whopping 35 percent,” Anchorage Daily News, March 21st, 2009.