Alaska Native musher sets record in win

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NOME, Alaska --- John Baker crossed the finish line first Tuesday in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to reclaim the title of Iditarod champion for the Alaska Native musher.

John Baker pets his lead dogs Snickers and Velvet after winning the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday. He is the first Alaska Native to win the sled dog race since 1976.   Associated Press
Associated Press
John Baker pets his lead dogs Snickers and Velvet after winning the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday. He is the first Alaska Native to win the sled dog race since 1976.

Baker, 48, of Kotzebu, steered his dog team down the main drag in this gold rush town on Alaska's western coast to win the 1,150-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, and get his name in the record books.

He is the first Alaska Native musher to win the world's longest sled dog race since Jerry Riley did it in 1976.

Baker also shattered by three hours the race record held by four-time champion Martin Buser, who completed the 2002 race in eight days, 22 hours and 46 minutes. Baker completed the race in 8 days, 19 hours and 46 minutes.

"Running a team like this, there is nothing better," Baker said. "I am really proud of this."

He said this year's running was an "incredible race for me."

He was greeted by a group of musicians playing Eskimo drums. Many in the crowd wore traditional Eskimo parkas.

Baker said he gets strength from Eskimo dancing and drumming and was pleased to see the Eskimo drummers greet him at the race's end. He said that is how he had imagined it would be if he ever won the Iditarod.

"That was a dream that I had and I must have mentioned it to someone."

Bertha Koweluk, 43, an Alaska Native from Nome, watched the finish with her 8-year-old daughter, and said that Baker's win will inspire Native people across the state.

"He represents a resilient people and it just shows we're strong and we can overcome," she said.

She said that so many times Alaska Natives are depicted as weak and crippled by addiction. But Baker's win, she said, illustrates an untold story of her people.

"We all need people to look up to, and this is a good guy to look up to," she said.

Baker received $50,400 and a new truck for winning. Baker, who had 11 top-10 finishes in 15 years of Iditarod racing, had not finished in the top spot before.

His best finish before this year was placing third in 2002 and 2009.


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