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Rick Swenson: Five-time champion set standard

  • Author:
  • Updated: June 30, 2016
  • Published February 27, 2010

In 1991, Rick Swenson set out from White Mountain to Nome into a snowstorm so severe that other veteran mushers turned back.

"There were times when you couldn't even see the ground," he said later. But he persevered and pressed on to claim his fifth victory. When asked why he kept going through the blizzard, Swenson answered: "Desperation, I guess. I wanted to win the Iditarod."

Swenson always wanted to win the Iditarod.

The Iditarod has never seen a more tenacious competitor. He pays attention to every detail of dog racing, but what sets him apart is his steely determination.

"He was as smart as anyone on the trail and mentally tougher," wrote nominating committee member John Larson in 1997. "He won because he willed it."

The result was an unequaled record, one that has secured Swenson's place at the top of the list of Iditarod champions.

Swenson has won the race five times, more than any other musher. He missed a sixth victory, in 1978, by a single second. He finished among the top five mushers 17 times. Until 2002, when he finished 19th, Swenson's worst finish in 25 years of racing was 11th. Between 1976 and 1995, his average finish was fourth. His scratch in 2005 was his first ever.

This year he goes for a championship in a fourth decade.

"He set the racing standard for almost two decades," Hall of Fame nominating committee member Tim Jones wrote. "He also deserves credit for the improvements in dog care and equipment that he's made over the years."

Members of the public who sent in nominations agreed.

"He is the most deserving musher," wrote George Carnahan.

"Thank you, Rick, for all the great examples you have set over the years of dog mushing and of dog caring," Barbara Romine wrote in a letter nominating Swenson. "You deserve to be inducted into the Iditarod Hall of Fame."

Inducted 1997 Greatest accomplishment Only five-time winner of the Iditarod. He has 24 top-10 finishes, more than any other musher. Vital stats Born: Willmar, Minn. Hometown: Two Rivers Age: 59 Best finish 1st -- 1977, '79, '81, '82, '91 Fastest time 2000 -- 9 days, 15 hours, 9 minutes Record 1976 10th 1977 1st 1978 2nd 1979 1st 1980 4th 1981 1st 1982 1st 1983 5th 1984 6th 1985 4th 1986 3rd 1987 2nd 1988 2nd 1989 3rd 1990 7th 1991 1st 1992 4th 1993 9th 1994 4th 1995 10th 1996 Withdrawn 1998 11th 1999 4th 2000 8th 2001 4th 2002 19th 2003 11th 2004 7th 2005 Scratched 2006 26th 2007 25th 2008 13th 2009 25th Awards Sportsmanship -- 1983, 2002 First to Yukon -- 1989 Golden Harness (to outstanding lead dog) -- 1991 Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian -- 1992, 2004 Nome to Safety -- 1977, '79, '80 Most Inspirational -- 1996