Rick Swenson’s son, Andy, was given his name to the memory of the best sled dog Rick ever had… What stronger mark of respect could exist for a dog that allowed him to walk away as a winner of his first Iditarod races between 1977 and 1981?
In the 70’s, sponsoring did not exist for mushers, and Rick Swenson was simply young and dog passionate. It was often enough to « be a dog » to become a sled dog athlete. In those conditions, Rick’s merit is even bigger for making his dog Andy the extraordinary leader he was.
Of course you can not invent motivation and will to go that dogs can have. But one has to recognize that performance is more easily acquired with dogs stemming from a runners’ lineage, chosen for competition on their ancestors’ qualities.
Andy was not one of them; he was « just » an exceptional sled dog, still worshiped by all mushers in the world.
1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990… Four Iditarod victories that Susan admits owing to the « big teddy bear » that Granite was. However, like Susan says, Granite had a lot of flows. As a puppy, he was afraid of his shadow, of the other dogs, of the sled… he refused to pull once he was harnessed… to say the least, a disaster!
Susan even tried to give him away, but nobody wanted him. So she took Granite with her to go train her team on the ice floe, for the final part of the Iditarod, between Koyuk and Elim. And that was the revelation; against all odds Granite showed great leader’s qualities, with a will stronger than the blizzard and a great resistance. That’s how he became a bid star of this sport.
Togo and Balto
Balto has his own statue in New York, in Central Park, so does Togo but in Anchorage (Alaska), on the 4th avenue. The reason is simple: Balto and Togo were, along with their master, the musher Léonhard Seppala, heroes of the famous « serum race». During the winter of 1925 , with their sled teammates, they saved several inhabitants of Nome from diphtheria epidemic struck.
Togo was 10 years old at that time, he lead for 340 miles (over 540kilometers), in the storm, Seppala’s dog team, keeping it on the right trail, giving it all his best to keep everyone going. He finished his task despite a bad leg fracture that had him limping for the rest of his life, which he ended as a pet dog in the Maine where he died on December the 5th of 1929. His body was naturalized and exhibited in the famous Peabody Museum of Yale University, before he recently joined the Iditarod Museum in Wasilla.
As for Balto, he was made famous in the whole world thanks to the cartoon produced by Walt Disney studios… but in this incredible accomplishment that saved many human lives, Balto only ran for 50 miles (about 78 kilometers). History is sometimes unfair when it gets the wrong hero!
He is without a doubt, the most world famous stallion. He was one of Egil Ellis’ first dogs, coming from an alaskan husky/pointer crossbreeding. Mike gave Ellis many victories. Egil relates «when he was one year old, that dog overcame any of the other dogs in performance. Mike was a dog that you only meet once in a lifetime. It was a real honor to run races with him. ».
He has passed away since then, but Mike keeps having litters of puppies, through artificial insemination.
Maybe the most famous long distance sled dog of the modern era. Lance Mackey his master says that as a puppy he was the ugly duckling. He would have never imagined he’d become this fantastic head dog.
As a matter of fact, Larry ran 10 races of 1000 miles (1800 kilometers) in his career and won 7 of them: 4 Yukon Quest and 3 Iditarod. In 2007, he achieves with his master to win both of the great marathon races. He finishes in each of these races as a head dog and receives the supreme award: the Golden Harness. We won’t be seeing anytime soon another dog accomplishing such an exploit. In 2009, at the age of 9, after he lead Lance Mackey to victory for the 3rd time in the Iditarod, he retired.
A well deserved rest for this extraordinary dog.