As it turned out, Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey isn't the only musher who will end up driving away with a new Dodge 4x4 pickup truck after this year's 1,000-mile race to Nome.
Scott Janssen of Anchorage, who finished 39th two weeks ago in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, found out Sunday night that he is one of four big winners in the Iditarod Winter Raffle Drawing. Typically, only the race winner brings home a new truck on top of more than $50,000 cash, and Iditarod officials said Monday they believe Janssen is the first musher to ever win the top prize at the post-race raffle.
Janssen was recovering from a bout with the flu on Sunday. His wife Debbie was on the computer in another room when an email arrived saying that Janssen had won. She shrieked and raced upstairs to tell her husband.
"I thought it was an April Fools joke right away," he admitted on Monday. But eventually Debbie convinced Scott of his fortune.
"Over the years, (Iditarod colleague and friend) Paul Gebhardt and I have each bought enough tickets we could go in as a team and buy a truck straight up," joked Janssen, who purchased five of the $100 raffle tickets this year. "I'd never even considering winning. Getting some tickets just seemed like the thing to do."
The four Dodge pickups given away Sunday are worth about $39,000 apiece, according to race organizers. All together, 20 raffle winners picked up an assortment of prizes worth $191,077. The other winners of Dodge pickups were all from the Lower 48: Keith Pederson of Whiteoak, Penn., James Maule of Everett, Wash., and Walter Schade of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Get the full list of raffle winners here.
Even after deducting the cost of prizes, the Iditarod netted $240,000 by selling all 4,000 of its raffle tickets, according Iditarod communications director Erin McLarnon. Raffles are big fund-raisers for the Iditarod. This raffle and the race's summer raffle earn about $360,000 together.
Dubbed the Mushing Mortician because he co-owns Evergreen Memorial Chapel, Alaska Cremation Center and Eagle River Funeral Home, Janssen, 50, has been a mortician and funeral home owner for a quarter-century. He reached Nome 11 days, 21 hours, 38 minutes after leaving Willow – an improvement upon his 2011 rookie race when it took about a day longer to reach Nome.
"This was great, it was excellent," Janssen gushed afterwards on the Iditarod website. "Everything was incredible."
Or incredibly stressful. The 2012 Iditarod turned out to be the third consecutive race to Nome without a dog death, and perhaps no musher came closer to losing an animal than Janssen. He performed mouth-to-snout resuscitation on one of his dogs midway thorugh a steep and rocky descent from Rainy Pass toward the riverside checkpoint of Rohn early in the race.
Janssen's experience as a mortician gave him the background to know death when he saw it, and he was convinced the dog, which collapsed after a dip in the snow, was close to it. By the time the dog got to Rohn, after resuscitation, it was in reasonable shape with no obvious life threatening conditions, chief race veterinarian Stu Nelson said later. Nelson wondered whether a bunch of snow had gotten packed into the dog's mouth and throat as it plunged into the snow during a run, obstructing the airway. Janssen's work to revive the dog may have dislodged enough of the obstruction to restore breathing.
While rescuing the dog may have been fortunate, it wasn't Janssen's last encounter with good luck. "There's no doubt that winning a truck in the raffle is a pretty neat way to end the race," he said.
If he gets to keep it.
"My daughters (ages 26 and 21) contacted me right away and told me what kind of truck they want," Janssen said.
Contact Mike Campbell at mcampbell(at)alaskadispatch.com