Preparing for the Iditarod is often a family event. Everyone pitches in to do the hard work needed to successfully compete in this grueling race. And they have fun, too.
Animals, especially dogs, are the focus of the musher's family life. The Buser family, for example, owns and manages the Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake, Alaska. They have about 100 dogs. Sons Rohn and Nikolai help their parents, Martin Buser and Kathy Chapoton, run the kennel. The boys have the fun job of teaching the puppies to be comfortable with people. To do this, they play with the puppies and walk them often.
The Seaveys raise and race sled dogs as a family business. The four children, Danny, Tyrell, Dallas, and Conway, work in the summers giving tours of their operation. Danny is in college. The others are homeschooled. During the winter, they spend most of their time preparing for and participating in sled-dog races around the country.
Q: Has your family always been interested in sled-dog racing?
Mitch Seavey: I've been running dogs since I was 4 years old. I learned from my father, Dan, when we moved to Alaska in 1963. I helped my dad train. I was the main handler for my dad when he ran in the first Iditarod in 1973 and again in 1974much as my kids are for me now.
[Editor's note: The Seaveys had three teams in Iditarod 2001: Mitch; his father, Dan; and Mitch's son Danny each raced a team. Iditarod officials confirmed that this was the first time three generations competed against one another in Alaska's 1,100-mile-long historic sled-dog race.]
Q: Do you think of running the Iditarod as a family business or a sport?
Mitch Seavey: It's how we make our living. It's definitely a family businessvery similar to running a family farm. We work many hours a day, 12 months out of the year. Also, the racing is exciting. In that way, it's like a sport. We just hope to make it pay.
The dogs are definitely athletes. But you can't get too lofty and heady about it when you have to go shovel up dog poop twice a day.
Q: Martin, why did you name your sons after checkpoints on the Iditarod trail?
Martin Buser: It started with the name Nicholas. We had lots of friends with a similar name, as well as an uncle of mine. So we called my first son Nikolai, because there is a checkpoint named that. When the second child came along, we wanted another strong Iditarod name. So, we named him Rohn. They seem to be proud of their names. They like them.
Q: Was it hard to keep training when your children were very young?
Martin Buser: When the kids were babies, they had no choice but to go along. I was the baby-sitter, so I would take them with me. Sometimes they would go along with their little sleds tied behind us.
Q: Mitch, could you be a professional musher without your kids to help you out?
Mitch Seavey: I couldn't do it the way we do now without the kids. I can't replace the expertise and commitment they have. I'd be lucky at any price to hire their expertise. We've got three complete teams ready to rock and roll and to run this race [the 300-mile Grand Portage in Minnesota, which took place in 2001 from January 23 to January 25]. I couldn't do that without them. With animals, it's not just flipping burgers where if you get a warm body and a tool you can get the job done. It's very intuitive; almost instinctive. It takes experience. These guys could not be replaced.
My kids have been training since they could carry a dog bucket. But after they've grown up and gone on with their lives, I still intend to be doing this.