Willow musher Linda Joy, making her third try in the Iditarod after scratching last year and being withdrawn in 1996, will start in 13th place today - and she’s grateful for it.
“No. 13 is fantastic,” the 44-year-old Joy said after drawing the number Thursday night at a banquet for Iditarod Trail Sled Dog mushers. Some 1,500 people gathered at Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena for the traditional pre-race dinner, which features mushers drawing their start positions from a boot.
Speakers included Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, who told the field of 63 racers that the “eyes of the world are riveted” on the 1,000-mile race. The Anchorage-to-Nome event begins today with top teams arriving at the finish within about 10 days.
The banquet is a chance for mushers from around the world to draw together before competing in earnest. The crowd posthumously honored two racers - Joel Kottke and Lolly Medley, who both competed in 1974. Kottke was recalled as one of the Iditarod’s early supporters and Medley was remembered as one of the first women to complete the race.
The crowd also cheered musher Joe Redington Sr., who is recovering from cancer surgery and attended the banquet with his wife, Vi. Redington is a household name in Alaska, where he is known as the father of the Iditarod.
Joy drew knowing laughs when she joked about her mishaps on the trail. She was withdrawn in 1996, her rookie year, after starting the race with an undiagnosed torn ligament that worsened on the trail; last year she scratched 200 miles from Anchorage after gouging her fingers to the bone with a snowhook.
“I hear the last checkpoint is in Nome,” she told the crowd after drawing her bib number. “I think that’s where my team will head.”
The first racer to draw a number, rookie Juan Alcina of Spain, picked No. 11. Mushers favor lower numbers to avoid heading out on an overworked trail, when warmer temperatures are hard on the dogs.
Drawing bib No. 15 was Anchorage rookie Kimarie Hanson, who at 18 is taking two weeks off from high school to run the race.
The field, among the largest in recent years, includes four past champs.