From wilderness guide to dairy farmer, meet 4 of the Iditarod rookies headed to Nome

A man in an orange puffy jacket pushes a dog sled through the downtown streets of Anchorage.
Isaac Teaford gets ready to race across the starting line at Saturday’s ceremonial start in Anchorage. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Iditarod rookie Isaac Teaford has wanted to race sled dogs since he was a boy. He even tried to mush with his Golden Retriever named Sassy.

“I tried to teach her how to pull a sled, built a sled with my dad,” he said. “I guess I’ve kind of always been obsessed with the Alaskan lifestyle.”

Teaford is now on his way to Nome, racing in his first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He’s one of 16 rookies in the 38-team field. Most of the rookies are first-timers, and a few are back for redemption after not making it to the finish line during prior attempts. They come from all over: Alaska, of course, plus Minnesota, Idaho, Utah and even Switzerland. 

Teaford is the Utah musher. At the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, he said he was feeling a little nervous. He circled his dog truck looking for more tasks to complete, but there weren’t any. It was time to race his dog team.

“The pre-race jitters are real,” he said, as temperatures hovered in the single digits.

While this is Teaford’s first Iditarod, he said he’s no stranger to harsh conditions. He went through two overseas deployments with the U.S. Navy before making his way to Seward to work as a wilderness guide. It was there he met Conway Seavey, the brother of five-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey. Teaford has since moved to Talkeetna to run dogs with Dallas. His lead dog Cirque is the son of one of Mitch Seavey’s record-breaking 2017 team that reached the burled arch in Nome in just over eight days and three hours.

two dogs jump over each-other in the snow.
Dogs jump over each other ahead of the ceremonial start. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Teaford isn’t the only Seavey family disciple making their first trip down the Iditarod trail this year.

Rookie Lara Kittelson has been working for Mitch Seavey for the last four years, and said she initially didn’t want to compete in the Iditarod until she saw drone footage of the trail while scrolling Instagram. 

“I was just struck with a feeling of wow, I want to be there. I want to do that. And I talked to Mitch and he made it happen, got me qualified and we’re here today,” Kittelson said.

Kittelson said there are parts of the trail she can’t wait to see, and explore with her dogs.

“I’m so excited to see the mountains like Rainy Pass,” she said. “That’s what I’m most excited about, like all those big beautiful pictures that Jeff Schultz takes, I want to be there and see that.”

A woman in a purple winter coat gives hi-fives while riding on a dog sled
Rookie Lara Kittelson high fives fans during the ceremonial start. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Severin Cathry had the farthest journey of any rookie in this year’s Iditarod. Originally from Switzerland, Cathry grew up on a dairy farm. His friend and former Iditarod finisher Dries Jacobs told him he needed to go to Alaska. 

“I always wanted to visit Alaska and I knew I liked the outdoors and animals, and then I got in touch with a dog team and I was hooked ever since,” Cathry said. “I never really wanted to do the Iditarod but I did some small distance races, got qualified and I was like, well, what the hell, let’s do the Iditarod.” 

Cathry is running a dog team from veteran musher Travis Beals’ kennel in Seward.

“I just want people to enjoy this because it’s really (an) Alaska thing,” Cathry said. “I think there is no other place where mushing is so big, like in Alaska. It’s really the paradise for me.”

Iditarod rookie Josi Thyr from Fairbanks.
Iditarod rookie Josie Thyr at the ceremonial start. (Tim Rockey / Alaska Public Media)

One of the most experienced rookies in this year’s field is Fairbanks musher Josi Thyr. Growing up in Idaho, Thyr started sled dog racing at just nine years old and now has 18 years of experience. Thyr described racing the Iditarod as her 20-year dream.

“I would just say, you know, for kids out there, there’s something you really want to do — even if you’re like a nine year old in the Lower 48 — just go for it,” Thyr said. “You never know where it’s going to end up taking you.”

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at or 907-550-8487. Read more about Tim here

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