Ryan Redington notches family’s first Iditarod victory, a childhood dream

Ryan Redington and his six-dog team, led by Sven and Ghost, are first into Nome on Tuesday. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Ryan Redington is the champion of the 2023 Iditarod, a sled dog race his grandfather founded more than 50 years ago.

Redington and his team of six dogs cruised down Front Street in Nome at 12:13 p.m. Tuesday to claim his first Iditarod win on his 16th try. The team was led by 4-year-old Sven and 6-year-old Ghost. Redington pumped his fists in the air as the crowd cheered. Temperatures hovered in the single-digits on the sunny afternoon. He pet each of his dogs. He got hugs from family. He thanked his fans.

“It means everything to bring that trophy home,” said Redington in the finish chute. “And, yeah, it’s been a goal of mine since a very small child, to win the Iditarod. And I can’t believe it. It finally happened. It took a lot of work, took a lot of patience and we failed quite a few times, you know, but we kept our head up high and stuck with the dream.”

Ryan Redington runs down Front Street to cheering fans. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Redington, 40, has deep mushing roots, and his Iditarod win is the first in his family.

Redington’s grandfather, Joe Redington Sr., is known as the “Father of the Iditarod,” and ia credited with pioneering the race. Ryan Redington is the son of Raymie who has raced a dozen Iditarods and he’s the nephew of Joee, who placed third in 1975. His brothers, Ray and Robert, have also competed. Ray’s highest finish was fourth and Robert’s was 22nd.

“Yeah it’s been a very dogged life for all of us,” said Ryan Redington. “And it is very — something that we all work toward every day, no days off, we think about winning the Iditarod.”

Ryan Redington and his mom, Barbara, hug at the finish line. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

He credited his brothers for helping him race.

“I want to thank them for their courage and their advice,” he said.

For his first-place finish, Redington will receive a portion of the $500,000 prize purse based on how many teams make it to Nome. He also wins a trophy — a bronze statute of his grandfather.

A trophy of Joe Redington Sr. (KNOM file)

Redington, a father of three now, splits his time between Wisconsin and Knik, where he grew up mushing and playing basketball.

Redington began racing the Iditarod in 2001. He scratched from seven of his first 12 races, and then appeared to hit his stride in 2020. He placed in the top 10 that year, and then the next two years after that. Before Tuesday, his highest finish was seventh in 2021. That same year, he won the Kobuk 440 in a competitive field and was the only musher to complete the entire course after extreme conditions forced several other contenders to call in a rescue. He has also won the competitive 300-mile Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Minnesota twice.

His victory Tuesday makes him not only the first Redington to win the Iditarod, but also the first musher to win both the 1,000-mile race and the Jr. Iditarod. He won the junior race in 1999 and 2000.

Ryan Redington was the first musher into Rainy Pass on March 6, where his team rested out the heat of the day. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

In this year’s Iditarod, Redington was near the front of the pack from the beginning of the race. He was the first musher to Rainy Pass, resting through the relatively warm hours of the day, when temperatures rose above freezing.

He continued to run toward the front of the pack, arriving first in McGrath, near race mile 300. But by the time teams reached the Yukon River, about halfway through the race, Redington appeared to have fallen behind 2022 champion Brent Sass and Jessie Holmes.

“I’m just hoping they goof each other up, push each other a little too much,” Redington said at the Grayling checkpoint about his chances of winning.

A Grayling resident hands a Reese’s peanut butter cupcake to Ryan Redington before he departs on March 10. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

At the next checkpoint, Sass scratched, saying he had a bad cold and serious pain from three cracked teeth. Farther down the Yukon River, Holmes’s team faltered, taking long and frequent rests on the trail. Holmes said he had hoped to take his mandatory eight-hour rest in Shageluk but discovered his drop bags hadn’t arrived. So he pushed down the trail another 25 miles to Anvik. He said his team lost its spark after that run.

Sass and Holmes’s exit from the top of the race gave Redington a window to victory, along with 2019 champion Pete Kaiser of Bethel and Aniak’s Richie Diehl. The three mushers, all Alaska Native, arrived in Kaltag within 32 minutes of one another, with Redington leading the way and with just 350 miles to the finish line.

But it was only Redington who gambled on a marathon run to the Bering Sea coast. His team cruised down an 85-mile section of trail to arrive in his mom’s birthplace of Unalakleet early Sunday. He said it felt like a “childhood dream coming alive.”

Ryan Redington (right) shortly after arriving in Unalakleet in first place at 4:20 a.m. on March 12. Iditarod Race Director and Race Marshal Mark Nordman greeted Redington. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

He left across the sea ice toward Koyuk after a few hours of rest, with Kaiser trailing 50 minutes behind.

Kaiser at first appeared to be clawing back time on Redington, but then he stopped in Elim for more than five hours while Redington’s team charged ahead, stopping only for a few minutes throughout a 94-mile, more than 13-hour stretch. Kaiser said he realized he couldn’t catch up to Redington, so he opted for the extended stop. He reasoned that if something unexpected happened to Redington’s team on the notoriously unpredictable coast, his team would be ready to take the lead.

Redington said he saw his long run as his “only chance” to beat Kaiser and Diehl, who he said he enjoyed competing against.

“I’ve been seeing them a lot throughout the race and they’re great competitors and they’ve got great dog teams and I’ve had a lot of fun with them on the trail,” he said in Nome.

Kaiser’s decision to stop in Elim let Redington arrive in White Mountain with a comfortable lead. After his mandatory eight-hour rest, he left the checkpoint at 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, four hours ahead of Kaiser and Diehl, who departed within minutes of one another.

From there, he and his dog team mushed through heavy winds on the last 100 miles of the race to Nome.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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