Iditarod -- Race Across Alaska
Danny Seavey Interview
February 2000

Students on Scholastic.com interviewed junior musher Danny Seavey during the running of the 2000 Iditarod race. Danny has raced in the 160-mile-long Junior Iditarod three times.

Q: At what age did you start training?
I started running dogs when I was less than 2 years old. My dad had a sled with a milk crate and a car seat on top, and he'd take me for rides. I started training with my dad when I was 11 years old for the races.

Q: How do you train?
Every year between October 1 and early march, each dog goes through about 2,000 miles of training, starting with 5-mile runs, and we slowly increase the distance. We typically run two days on, and one day off.

Q: What is your favorite part about racing?
I do enjoy the competition aspect of it, but one of my favorite parts is just travelling through the country and seeing the sights.

Q: Do you have to be a boy to be a musher?
No, you do not! Many women have done really well in the Iditarod, including Susan Butcher, who won the Iditarod four times.

Q: What is the scariest thing about the race?
That's a hard one. There isn't anything I'm really scared about. The biggest concerns for the mushers are the safety of the dogs and staying on the trail, but I'm not really scared about anything about the race.

Q: Some people say this race is cruel to the dogs. What do you and your father have to say about that?
Most of the people who think racing is cruel have not really come to see the race. They hear things and assume it must be cruel. They can't imagine their house pet running 1,000 miles. These dogs have been raised and bred for thousands of years, and this is instinctive for them. The dogs enjoy the race. People who've been around it see the excitement and enthusiasm of the dogs.

Q: If dogs become sick or injured along this difficult race, how are they cared for?
There are 30 veterinarians along the trail to help the mushers out with taking care of them, and most of the mushers are very well trained in caring for the dogs. But if a dog has an injury, like a sprain, we can drop the dogs off at a checkpoint where vets take care of them, and they're flown home from there.

Q: What is your favorite dog and why?
I honestly don't have one favorite dog. Some of the older ones, one who was 16 years old, you get attached to them after spending so much time with them. Almost all the dogs we have now were raised from puppies. They're all my favorite for one reason or another.

Q: Do the dogs understand the competition aspect like horses in a horse race do?
I don't think the dogs understand competition. However, they are very aware of how the musher is feeling. And some of them - I know - try harder and do their very best. But I think they want to please the musher.

Q: How does your relationship with your dogs differ from most pet owners?
The sled dogs in general have more of a pack mentality. So they enjoy being around the other dogs as much - if not more than with other people. I spend 14 hours a day with my dogs, taking care of them and training them. The dogs are very friendly and excited to see me, jumping up when I feed them.

Q: Has the Seavey family ever lost a dog during the Iditarod race?
No, we haven't - or in any other race.

Q: Do you take "spare" dogs?
You cannot take spare dogs on the Iditarod. You can start with 16 dogs, and you can drop them off, but you have to continue with fewer dogs. You have to finish with at least five dogs.

Q: How do the dogs stay on the icy trail?
They have their toenails, which can dig into the ice, and this gives them traction.

Q: Who is your hero?
There are several people, like the older mushers, like Joe Reddington, Sr., who helped found the race. He started the Iditarod race and was instrumental in helping sled dogs regain popularity in Alaska. This year's race was held in his memory.

Q: Do the training and the race interfere with your schooling?
Yes! I go to school from now to mid-May, and again from mid-September through November. And other than that, I can get very little done. I do my schooling when I have the time.

Q: What made you decide to become a musher?
I was born into it. I will run the Iditarod next year, but I'm not sure if I really want to continue on with it.

Q: Do you have a lot of contact with other racers on the trail, or are you very spread out?
Oftentimes, when you're traveling, you're on your own. Mushers prefer to be on their own for several strategic reasons. If you're with another team, it can take longer, waiting for them or having to help them. However, at the checkpoints we do see a lot of the other mushers.

Q: Is there a leader of the pack?
There are some of the dogs who are more dominant than others; the same as with people. But we never let them fight between themselves, so there are 15 dogs that think they're the leader of the pack! It's a Hollywood myth that they fight for the lead position.

Q: If you need medicine on the trail, can you take it with you? If it is liquid medicine, will it freeze?
Yes to both! You can take medicine on the trail, and we have pockets inside our clothing that can keep the medicine warm. However, both the mushers and dogs refrain from antibiotics because it can make you sleepy. We use homeopathic and holistic medicines on the trail.

Q: What are some of your dogs' names?
I'll start with the ones who just made it into Nome. There's Dolphin, Joe Joe, Tread, Oscar, Emmie, Duchess, Rambler, and Iceman.

Q: How fast can your dogs go?
For short distances, our dogs can go a little more than 20 miles an hour. However, the favorite speed is about 12 miles an hour on the trail because they can sustain that for a much longer time.

Q: How do you feel about racing against your father and grandfather in the next Iditarod?
Next year, I'm running a puppy team. All the dogs are a year and a half old. It's sort of like a junior varsity team. So, I'm not trying to be competitive at all. My grandpa is just coming along to train me. There isn't a real competitive aspect among the family members.

Q: Your father just finished this year's Iditarod. How did he do?
He was in ninth place, and we're very happy with that. He's still sleeping from yesterday morning's finish.

Q: Did you help your dad this year during the Iditarod?
Not during the Iditarod. Mushers aren't allowed to have any assistance along the trail other than from the vets. Before the race starts, I take care of the dogs and help out, but not during the race.

Q: What animals do you see on the trail?
Most common are moose. They're also the biggest danger to the dogs on the trail. We're running on a packed snow trail, which is easier for the moose to travel on, so they tend to congregate on our trail. And sometimes they can be very ornery about getting off the trail! We also see wolves and caribou. We don't see a whole lot on the trail. The dogs tend to scare off the other animals.

Q: What happens if you get lost on the trail?
The trail is marked with sticks that are painted orange and have reflectors on them. We are supposed to follow these markers so we don't get lost on the trail. If you do get lost, you just turn around until you see a marker and go on again from there.

Q: Have you ever been stuck in a blizzard during a race?
I have not. My dad has. He was stuck for 52 hours in a blizzard one time. They had to wait it out until it finally blows out. The dogs and mushers get into one big heap to keep warm.

Q: Do you see a common trait among mushers?
There are several common traits. Most of them are very competitive. But also it takes a special kind of person to be able to work with animals. To some degree, it's like being a coach for a sports team. You have to have a lot of patience with the dogs. The main thing is to be very good with animals.

Q: If you have one dog that stops, will the rest stop too?
Sometimes that can happen. If you have one dog that's trying to stop, that is a very good indication that they are getting tired. And it's a good time to call a rest break before they actually have to stop on their own. The worst thing you can do is to run the dogs so far they have to stop on their own because then they lose all trust and confidence in the musher to pace them.

Q: Have you ever been injured on the trail?
Myself, not seriously. A few nicks and dings but nothing serious.

Q: Do mushers have other jobs that support the dog racing, or can you make a living mushing?
Sometimes the mushers will have other jobs. The very best mushers will have enough sponsors so they can afford to just train dogs year round. We do tours in the summertime with our dogs. That is what finances us, so we can work with the dogs year-round.

Q: When you finish the race, how do you get back to Anchorage?
Nome has scheduled flights back to Anchorage. The flight has what they call special "igloos," which are really kennels for the dogs.

Q: How big are the sleds and how much weight can they carry?
Most of the sleds have a six-foot basket or cargo area, and the musher stands behind that, and you can carry up to 200 pounds in the sled.

Q: Was it cool for you and your family to be in the Scholastic News?
Yes, I really enjoyed the interview. It was fun working with them.

Q: Do you have any time for other things besides races, like sports, friends, and hanging out? What other hobbies do you have?
Not much time for other things. Most of my friends are also running the dogs. I enjoy other things like hiking and camping, but most of my time is spent with the dogs.

Q: When you're at a point during the race that you think you might quit, what do you think of that keeps you going?
I've never felt like quitting in the race, but I've never run the Iditarod. From hearing other mushers talk, it's easy to feel like quitting. They get tired, and the dogs get tired. The mushers get less than two hours of sleep a day on the trail sometimes; it is very easy to think you should quit. But, I honestly don't know what keeps them going. Of course, quite a few of them do end up quitting. They scratch from the race.

Q: Does your family help you with your training?
Yes, it's sort of the other way around. My dad and grandpa have helped me with the training, but I'm actually helping my dad with training for the race. When I race, I borrow some of his dogs.

Q: Is being younger an advantage or disadvantage for a musher?
It depends on the length of the race. In shorter races, the younger mushers have an advantage because we can do more running. Older mushers have an advantage on longer races such as the Iditarod because they handle sleep deprivation much better than younger mushers. Like Doug Swingley, who just won the Iditarod, is around 46 years old.

Q: How many layers of clothes do you wear while racing?
Actually, the gear that they're wearing now is two layers: a very thin polypropylene layer, and then a thicker foam outer layer with a nylon shell over that. It's all designed to wick the moisture away from the skin to help keep you dry. If you can stay dry, it's much easier to stay warm.

Q: How many dogs do you have?
We have 60 adults plus the puppies. There are about 15 puppies right now. We train about 30 of those dogs for my dad's competitive team, another 20 for our puppy team - what I'll be running next year - and then there are 10 more that are the mothers and retirees.

Q: What other races have you done in the past year?
Just this year, I only ran the Grand Portage race. I came in fourth place in that race, and it was the second time I ran it. I was fourth both times. It's a 300-mile race.

Q: If you won the race, how would you spend the prize money?
Actually, I never see any of the prize money. My mom gets all of that. I just run for the fun of it and the experience.

Q: How and when do you know whether a puppy is "cut out" to be a sled dog?
That's mostly what that yearling team is for. The JV team that I'll be running next year. We have one of those every year. We don't know until they've run their first Iditarod just how good they're going to be. All the puppies, when we harness them up, they all run and pull. I've never seen one that didn't want to go.

Q: What do you feed your dogs?
They get about 25 percent commercial dry dog food, about 25 percent fat, and 50 percent red meat. They also get a lot of vitamins.

Q: What are some essential items for making the trip?
Some of the mandatory things the mushers have to carry on the sled are an axe, a sleeping bag, snow shoes, booties for the dogs, and a cooker to make food for them.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to say to our audience?
I very much appreciate your interest in the sport, and I hope you can find whatever information you need about the race. Watch for me in next year's Iditarod!