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The Two Rivers musher owns a record five Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race championships. Swenson won his first in the 1,100- mile race across the state between Anchorage and Nome in 1977, won again in 1979, 1981 and 1982, while relying on his famed lead dog Andy, and with remarkable drama captured his fifth crown in 1991.
Swenson was the first repeat winner of the world’s most famous long-distance mushing event, the first to win three times and the first to win four times.
In 1978, the Minnesota-born racer finished in second place, by a single second, in the closest Iditarod finish in history. Swenson wrote different history in 1991. Braving a ferocious storm when some of his top competitors turned back to shelter, Swenson showed exceptional fortitude in racing through whiteout conditions when all contact was cut off with race headquarters. In perhaps his finest moment, the veteran musher electrified crowds waiting under the burled arch in Nome with his late-night championship finish.
Swenson is the hero of many Alaskans for his fearlessness on the trail and is renowned as a man who speaks his mind.
During much of the 1980s, Swenson engaged in a highly charged racing rivalry with four-time champion Susan Butcher. For some, Swenson became the human symbol defending Alaskan manhood at a time when women first excelled in the Iditarod.
Among his other Iditarod honors, Swenson has won the Sportsmanship award, the Most Inspirational Musher award, the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian award, and the Golden Harness award.
Well into his 50s, Swenson continued to race with top-20, in-the-money capability. In addition, during his decades in the sport, Swenson has served many terms on the Iditarod Trail Committee’s board of directors.
– Lew Freedman
photo courtesy of Jeff Shultz/Alaska Stock Images
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