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Leo Rasmussen: A longtime love affair with race

Nome businessman Leo Rasmussen hasn't been with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race forever; it just seems that way.

After all, the now 68-year-old, six-time mayor of Nome was a young man when he volunteered to help with the event three months before its first running in 1973.

Never a musher himself, Rasmussen confessed to a fondness for the women and men willing to challenge 1,000 miles of wilderness with their dog teams.

"I admire people with guts and stamina," the burly, bearded Rasmussen once said. "I think (the Iditarod) is worth protecting, and it's worth promoting."

He has been involved with both.

He first volunteered to serve as the finish-line checker in 1972. The first race was set for the next March, and people in Anchorage were taking bets on whether any teams would make it to the Bering Sea.

They did -- but nobody could see what lay ahead.

"I don't think I ever fathomed that it would grow to what it is today," Rasmussen said.

He was there much of the way. Rasmussen served on the Bureau of Land Management Iditarod Trail Council that helped find old trail routes and was president of the Iditarod National Historic Trail Inc.

Through the turbulent mid-1980s, Rasmussen was on the Iditarod board of directors. In 1986, after the race went $800,000 in debt, he joined other board members to oust the Iditarod president and executive director.

For three years, Rasmussen served as president of the Iditarod board, another volunteer job, helping pull the race out of debt.

"Other than Joe Redington Sr., I'm not sure I know of anyone who is as interested in or as passionate about the Iditarod trail as Leo Rasmussen," Iditarod executive director Stan Hooley said.

Inducted 2002 Greatest accomplishment Giving his all to the race and the trail. Vital stats Born: Grand Rapids, Mich. Hometown: Nome Age: 68 Positions held Finish-line checker. President of Iditarod National Historic Trail Inc. President of the Iditarod board of directors, 1988-91. Other contributions Six-term mayor of Nome, northern terminus of the Iditarod Trail.