Local Kuskokwim mushers dominated this year’s Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race, taking four of the top five positions. The region’s local mushers also swept the race awards.
Best In The West
Kuskokwim 300 winner Richie Diehl of Aniak won the Best in the West Award. The award goes to the highest finishing musher from Western Alaska. In addition to his $25,500 race winnings, Diehl took home two round-trip Alaska Airlines tickets to anywhere the airline flies. Diehl made K300 race history as the first musher from a Kuskokwim community outside of Bethel to win the race, and the first musher to win both the K300 and Bogus Creek 150 in the same year. During the virtual K300 awards ceremony, Diehl shared a story about his dog team.
“When they were puppies, my good friend in Aniak, he took care of them while I was at Iditarod one year, and he nicknamed them the ‘Spring Breakers’ because every day was a party. And that’s exactly how they performed during this race. They ran fast and partied hard, so it’s a fun group of dogs. And again, thanks to everybody,” Diehl said.
The Humanitarian Award goes to the musher who takes the best care of their dogs along the trail, as determined by race veterinarians. During the virtual awards ceremony, the veterinarians said that several mushers provided top care, but called one’s care “exemplary.” That musher is also a veterinarian: Jessica Klejka of Bethel, this year’s Humanitarian Award winner.
“Jessica just spent that little extra time on the trail with her dogs. She knew how her dogs were running. When she came in, she was the first to say to us, ‘This dog needs a little something extra,' so congratulations to Jessica,” race veterinarian Laurie Mythaler-Mullins said as she presented Klejka the award.
Klejka finished eighth in the K300. In addition to her $7,500 winnings, she’ll take home a gold pan and two round-trip Alaska Airlines tickets to anywhere the airline flies.
Rookie of the Year Award and the Joe Demantle Jr. and Robert Ivan Award
Fr. Alexander Larson of Napaskiak won the final two awards. Larson placed fourth in the K300, and won the Rookie of the Year Award for being the rookie to place highest in the race. Larson has competed in and won shorter races for decades, but this year’s K300 marked his first 300-mile contest. In addition to his $9,500 winnings, he also received an additional $300 for his top rookie finish.
“I enjoyed the trip, the whole race. I thought it was going to be hard, but it wasn’t. If you think about it, it’s not that hard. Once you get used to it, or get along with other mushers, it was so nice to be out there with them,” Larson said during a video prepared for the awards ceremony.
Larson also won the Sportsmanship Award, the name of which was changed this year to the Joe Demantle Jr. and Robert Ivan Award. The award honors two well-known local mushers and former K300 competitors who helped shape competitive mushing in the region, and who recently died.