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Lionized as “The Father of the Iditarod,” Joe Redington Sr. virtually invented modern long-distance dog racing and made it into the Alaska state sport.
During his decades as a homesteader in the Alaska Bush, and then in Knik with a kennel of up to 500 dogs, Redington became the patron saint of the Alaska husky that he feared being phased out in favor of the snowmobile. An adventurer who mushed more than 250,000 miles, Redington brought the sled dog back to prominence by overseeing the organization and fund-raising for the first 1,100-mile Iditarod in 1973.
Redington solicited volunteers, recruited mushers, helped clear trail, and raised the $50,000 purse – then the largest payoff in mushing history.
As the race grew, Redington competed several times – with a high finish of fifth more than once – the last time finishing the race at age 80. Redington worked tirelessly to promote the Iditarod as a member of its governing body’s board of directors, and by lobbying Congress to designate the Iditarod Trail as a National Historic Trail.
The man born in a tent in Oklahoma who never knew his mother became internationally famous for his Iditarod involvement, and aided many entrants from foreign countries in their first Iditarod competitions by teaching them the sport and supplying dogs to them. Redington had complete faith in the savvy and power of Alaskan huskies and led the first dog-team expedition to the summit of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley in 1979.
Until his death from cancer at age 82 in 1999, Redington continued to compete in the race he helped make famous. His sons and grandsons have also been regular participants. Winners of the annual March race each receive the Joe Redington Trophy in the form of a bust of the event’s most dedicated booster.
– Lew Freedman
photo courtesy of Jeff Shultz/Alaska Stock Images
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