NOME — Ryan Redington is the champion of the 2023 Iditarod, a sled dog race his grandfather founded 50 years ago.
Redington and his team of six dogs cruised down Front Street in Nome at 12:13 p.m. Tuesday to claim his first Iditarod win on his 16th try.
The team was led by 4-year-old Sven and 6-year-old Ghost. Redington pumped his fists in the air as the crowd cheered in single-digit temperatures. Under the burled arch, Redington hopped off his sled and petted each of his dogs. He hugged his family. He thanked his fans.
“It means everything to bring that trophy home,” he said. “It’s been a goal of mine since a very small child, to win the Iditarod. And I can’t believe it. It finally happened. It took a lot of work, took a lot of patience and we failed quite a few times, you know, but we kept our head up high and stuck with the dream.”
First Redington victory
Redington, 40, has deep mushing roots, and his Iditarod win is the first in his family.
Redington’s grandfather, Joe Redington Sr., is known as the “Father of the Iditarod,” and is credited with pioneering the race. Ryan Redington is the son of Raymie who has raced a dozen Iditarods and he’s the nephew of Joee, who placed third in 1975. His brothers, Ray and Robert, have also competed. Ray’s highest finish was fourth and Robert’s was 22nd.
“Yeah it’s been a very dogged life for all of us,” said Ryan Redington. “And it is very — something that we all work toward every day, no days off, we think about winning the Iditarod.”
He credited his brothers for helping him race.
“I want to thank them for their courage and their advice,” he said.
Redington’s parents, Barbara and Raymie, cheered in the finish chute.
“He’s been working on it for a long time,” said Raymie. “My dad started it and he wants to do it for him … and me.”
Barbara said they’ve been nervous the whole time.
“I feel good, but like on anyone, I’ve just been on pins and needles,” she said.
For his first-place finish, Redington will receive a portion of the $500,000 prize purse based on how many teams make it to Nome. He also wins a trophy — a bronze statute of his grandfather.
An auspicious fortune
At the finish line, Redington told Iditarod announcer Greg Heister that he felt good about this year’s race before it even started. He said he pulled an auspicious message from a fortune cookie ahead of the competition.
“Number five will be your lucky number for the week,” he said.
Then he pulled Bib No. 5 for the race.
Redington said he thought about the fortune every day for the nearly nine days it took him to complete the 1,000-mile race. And things felt lucky for him even before the race started. He said at a post-race news conference that something felt special about the way his team has been running all year.
“When we’d finished runs, they never seemed tired,” he said.
Redington was followed into Nome Tuesday by Bethel’s Pete Kaiser and his eight-dog team at 1:36 p.m. and Aniak’s Richie Diehl and his seven dogs almost an hour after that.
This year’s top three mushers are all Alaska Native and close friends. Redington said he enjoyed competing against Kaiser and Diehl, and they’ve taught him a lot.
“I’ve been seeing them a lot throughout the race and they’re great competitors and they’ve got great dog teams and I’ve had a lot of fun with them on the trail,” he said.
Redington, a father of three now, splits his time between Wisconsin and Knik, where he grew up mushing and playing basketball.
Redington began racing the Iditarod in 2001. He scratched from seven of his first 12 races, and then appeared to hit his stride in 2020. He placed in the top 10 that year, and then the next two years after that. Before Tuesday, his highest finish was seventh in 2021. That same year, he won the Kobuk 440 in a competitive field and was the only musher to complete the entire course after extreme conditions forced several other contenders to call in a rescue. He has also won the competitive 300-mile Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Minnesota twice.
His victory Tuesday makes him not only the first Redington to win the Iditarod, but also the first musher to win both the 1,000-mile race and the Jr. Iditarod. He won the junior race in 1999 and 2000.
How 2 monster runs got Redington ahead
In this year’s Iditarod, Redington was near the front of the pack from the beginning. He was the first musher to Rainy Pass, resting through the relatively warm hours of the day, when temperatures rose above freezing.
He continued to run toward the front, arriving first in McGrath, near race mile 300. But by the time teams reached the Yukon River, about halfway through the race, Redington appeared to have fallen behind 2022 champion Brent Sass and Jessie Holmes.
“I’m just hoping they goof each other up, push each other a little too much,” Redington said at the Grayling checkpoint about his chances of winning.
At the next checkpoint, Sass scratched, saying he had a bad cold and serious pain from three cracked teeth. Farther down the Yukon River, Holmes’s team faltered, taking long and frequent rests on the trail. Holmes said he had hoped to take his mandatory eight-hour rest in Shageluk but discovered his drop bags hadn’t arrived. So he pushed down the trail another 25 miles to Anvik. He said his team lost its spark after that run.
Sass and Holmes’s exit from the top of the race gave Redington a window to victory, along with 2019 champion Kaiser and Diehl. The three mushers arrived in Kaltag within 32 minutes of one another, with Redington leading the way and with just 350 miles to the finish line.
But it was only Redington who gambled on a marathon run to the Bering Sea coast. His team cruised down an 85-mile section of trail to arrive in his mom’s birthplace of Unalakleet early Sunday. He said it felt like a “childhood dream coming alive.”
He left across the sea ice toward Koyuk after a few hours of rest, with Kaiser trailing 50 minutes behind.
Kaiser at first appeared to be clawing back time on Redington, but then he stopped in Elim for more than five hours while Redington’s team charged ahead, stopping only for a few minutes throughout a 94-mile, more than 13-hour stretch.
“I wanted to win the Iditarod,” Redington said in Nome. “I knew Pete has one very good dog team, and I thought the move to go through it was the move that was gonna help me win the Iditarod.”
Kaiser said he realized he couldn’t catch up to Redington, so he opted for the extended stop in Elim. He reasoned that if something unexpected happened to Redington’s team on the notoriously unpredictable coast, his team would be ready to take over the No. 1 spot.
Redington arrived in White Mountain, the checkpoint 77 miles from Nome, with a comfortable lead on Monday. After his mandatory eight-hour rest, he left the checkpoint at 12:15 a.m. Tuesday — four hours ahead of Kaiser and Diehl, who departed within minutes of one another.
He said he doubted himself, but the dogs rose to the challenge.
“I always do right by the dogs, and if they weren’t up for the challenge, I wasn’t gonna do it,” he said.
He said the final stretch to the finish, through the notoriously windy Topkok Hills, were some of the most challenging of the entire race. It was near white-out conditions.
“When we got in the blow hole there was many times when all I could see was the wheel dogs,” he said. “It was crazy.”
Despite the challenges, Redington said he didn’t panic.
“I didn’t get excited. I didn’t worry about speed,” he said. “I talked to the dogs.”
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