Jerry Austin: Winning respect along the trail

February 26, 2010 

Just about everything that could happen to an Iditarod musher happened to Jerry Austin.

In 1980, he and Dick Mackey had to kill a moose that attacked their teams. They were charged with wasting the meat, but the charges were dropped.

In 1985, he broke his hand running into a tree. He taped it up and finished the race.

In 1993, he organized and led a procession of 17 mushers, who had been trapped by weather in White Mountain, under the burled arch in Nome.

In 1995, he stopped a charging moose with an explosive shot fired from a flare pistol.

A few years ago, he swore he saw a pair of polar bears near the trail along the Arctic coast.

Just about everything that could happen did happen. Everything except winning. Austin ran in 18 Iditarods. He finished in the top 10 six times. But his best finish was third in 1982.

On the other hand, he did help save another musher's life. In 1989, Austin was running among the rookies in the middle of the pack when they came upon musher Mike Madden, sick and delirious. They kept him warm and fed him, but he didn't get better. They were a long way from the help Madden needed. So Austin and another musher raced to the nearest town, returning with a helicopter that evacuated Madden to the hospital. Then Austin mushed Madden's team the 30 miles to town. He finished just out of the money that year but won the sportsmanship award for the second time.

"How often the name Austin comes up in the mushing community and during races," reader Stan Smith wrote in 1997. "Someone needed a ride, rescue a team/driver, lost their headlamp, sunglasses? Jerry was always there to assist."

Jerry Austin may never have won the Iditarod, but over a long career he won the respect of his fellow mushers.

Inducted 1997 Greatest accomplishment Three-time winner of the Sportsmanship Award. Vital stats Born: Seattle Hometown: St. Michael Age: 62 Best finish 3rd -- 1982 Fastest time 1996 -- 10 days, 16 hours, 39 minutes Race record 1976 23rd 1978 9th 1980 7th 1981 13th 1982 3rd 1984 5th 1985 14th 1986 8th 1987 5th 1988 11th 1989 22nd 1990 19th 1991 14th 1992 24th 1993 23rd 1994 22nd 1995 17th 1996 21st Awards Humanitarian -- 1982 Halfway -- 1986 First to Yukon -- 1987 Sportsmanship -- 1987, '89, '93

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