An Iditarod musher willing to share his knowledge of trails and conditions he absorbed while growing up in the Norton Sound region is the winner of this year’s Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award.
Aaron Burmeister, who placed fifth this year for the sixth top-10 finish of his career, earned the award voted on by Norton Sound race checkers from Unalakleet to Nome. It goes to the musher “who best epitomizes Herbie Nayokpuk’s spirit of mushing the Iditarod.”
Burmeister is a 19-time finisher of the race that ends in Nome, the place he grew up and learned to drive dog teams. These days he lists Nome and Nenana as his hometowns.
In announcing the award, the Iditarod said Burmeister was honored “for his positive attitude and his willingness to share his equipment and knowledge of the coastal conditions with fellow mushers.”
After reaching Nome this year, Burmeister spoke about how it feels to reach Unalakleet and the Norton Sound, 260 miles from the finish line.
“Coming through the portage is a place I cry every year, 'cause you get about 20 miles out of Unalakleet and you can get that sweet, salty air," he said. "That’s the smell of home.”
Burmeister gets a cash prize of $1,049 -- a figure based on race’s 1,000-mile distance and Alaska’s status as the 49th state -- a piece of artwork and a jacket from Northern Air Cargo, which sponsors the award.
Burmeister, who also won the award in 2015, is the second two-time winner, joining Michelle Phillips, the winner in 2017 and 2012.
The prize was first presented in 2007, the year after Nayokpuk died at age 77. A beloved racer known as the “Shishmaref Cannonball” -- a nod to his Bering Sea hometown of Shishmaref -- Nayokpuk is an Iditarod Hall of Fame member.
“No musher in Iditarod history has been more admired, more respected or better liked than Herbie Nayokpuk,” says his Hall of Fame biography. “He took more than one rookie under his wing, and his dogs showed up in many of the early Iditarod teams.”
Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award
2007 -- Louis Nelson
2008 -- William Kledehn
2009 -- Sonny Lindner
2010 -- William “Middie” Johnson
2011 -- Paul Johnson
2012 -- Michelle Phillips
2013 -- Mikhail Telpin
2014 -- Newton Marshal
2015 -- Aaron Burmeister
2016 -- Ralph Johannessen
2017 -- Michelle Phillips
2018 -- Richie Diehl
2019 -- Aaron Peck
2020 -- Aaron Burmeister
This story has been updated to correct Burmeister’s placement in this year and the number of times he has finished in the top 10.