Jason Mackey, the last competitor to cross the finish line in the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, was chosen as this year’s most inspirational musher by fellow racers.
Mackey returned to the race after several years away and was carrying some of the ashes of his late brother — long-distance mushing legend Lance Mackey, who died from cancer last year — along with the ashes of his mother with him on the trail.
Jason Mackey received the honor, one of several awards presented to Iditarod mushers, at the finishers banquet Sunday in Nome (the awards come on top of each musher’s share of the total $500,000 prize purse: Champion Ryan Redington was allotted $51,800, other mushers in the top 20 were allotted prize amounts corresponding to their finishing place, and everyone from 21st place onward received $1,049).
The 2023 Iditarod awards include:
• Most Inspirational Musher Award: Fellow racers chose Jason Mackey as this year’s most inspirational musher. The award comes with paid entry to the 2024 Iditarod.
• Donlin Gold Sportsmanship Award: Mushers this year chose Hunter Keefe to receive the sportsmanship award, which comes with $3,000 and a commemorative plaque. Keefe had given fellow rookie Eddie Burke Jr. a ride to the Eagle Island checkpoint after Burke fell off his sled. In Nome, Burke called Keefe “a true sportsman,” and “a stand-up guy and a great dog man.”
• Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award: The Iditarod’s veterinary team selects a musher who demonstrates “outstanding dog care while remaining competitive throughout the race” to be the recipient of this award, presented by the Pike Dog Wellness First Initiative. Winner Deke Naaktgeboren received a commemorative trophy and paid entry to the 2024 Iditarod.
• Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award: Race staff and officials chose rookie Bridgett Watkins for this award, which is presented to the musher whose attitude on the trail emulates “Herbie: The Shishmaref Cannon Ball.” Watkins received a Northern Air Cargo jacket loaded with $1,049 in “pocket change” and crafts made by the Nayokpuk family.
• Most Improved Musher: Matt Failor won $2,000 and a commemorative trophy for being the competitor who improved on their previous finish by the most places. Failor finished eighth place this year, improving on his 30th-place finish from 2022.
• Golden Clipboard Award: Mushers chose Grayling as this year’s most outstanding checkpoint.
• City of Nome Lolly Medley Memorial Golden Harness Award: Mushers choose the recipient of this award, presented in honor of the late Lolly Medley, a harness maker from Wasilla who was also one of two women to run the second Iditarod. Winners Ghost and Sven, Redington’s champion lead dogs, received an embroidered gold-colored harness.
• Alaska Air Transit Spirit of Alaska Award: Presented to the first musher to arrive in McGrath. Winning the award, Redington received a pair of mitts made with beaver and beaded leather by Loretta Maillelle of McGrath and a beaver hat made by McGrath’s Rosalie Egrass.
• GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award: Presented to the first musher to reach the checkpoint of Iditarod. Winner Wade Marrs received $3,000 in gold nuggets and a commemorative trophy.
• First Musher to the Yukon Award: Presented to Jessie Holmes, the first musher to arrive at Anvik. He received a gourmet five-course meal prepared by Marx Bros. Cafe’s executive chef at the checkpoint, plus dinner for two at the upscale Anchorage restaurant.
• Bristol Bay Native Corporation Fish First Award: Redington won this award for being the first to reach Kaltag. The award comes with $2,000, a certificate for 25 pounds of salmon fillets from Bristol Bay and wood-burned artwork by artist Apay’uq Moore.
• Ryan Air Gold Coast Award: Presented to the first musher to reach Unalakleet, the race’s first checkpoint on the Norton Sound coast. Presented with the award, Redington received an ounce’s worth of gold nuggets and Ryan Air merchandise.
• Northrim Bank Achieve More Award: Presented to Redington, the first musher to reach the White Mountain checkpoint. The award comes with $2,500 and a donation to the White Mountain community in Redington’s name.
• Rookie of the Year: Burke, the first rookie to cross the finish line this year, received $2,000 and a commemorative trophy. He finished the race in 9 days, 8 hours, 37 minutes, 54 seconds, claiming seventh place overall.
• Nome Kennel Club Fastest Time from Safety to Nome: Nic Petit received $500 for being the competitor with the fastest run between the checkpoint of Safety and the finish line in Nome.
• Lynden “Committed through the Last Mile” Red Lantern Award: Presented to the last finisher of the Iditarod. Winner Mackey received the Red Lantern Trophy and $1,000.