Nearly 8,400 days after completing his first run, Wally Robinson returns to Nome

NOME — Almost 8,400 days after he first crossed the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race’s finish line as a rookie, Wally Robinson completed his second attempt at the nearly thousand-mile race.

Under crystal-clear skies, Robinson arrived in Nome at 2:22 p.m. Wednesday to an animated crowd that included both fans and fellow mushers, eager to see him complete the run after a 23-year gap.

There were plenty of congratulations exchanged and hugs from supporters, friends and family, including his 16-year-old daughter, Emily, the three-time Junior Iditarod champion.

“It felt really good,” he said of the embrace with his daughter. “Emily and I have been running dogs for a long time, since she was 3. She’s run her races, and she was happy for me to be able to run Iditarod. We have a pretty good connection through dogs and dog mushing.”

Emily Robinson enjoyed playing the role of a proud family member. She periodically checked the tracker inside Nome’s Mini Convention Center as her dad completed the final hundred miles and was emotional after giving her dad a big hug.

“It’s usually the other way around where Dad is crying before I even get to the finish line,” she said. “This way, it was reversed.”

As of six weeks ago, Robinson had no intention of running his second Iditarod. But when his friend Josh McNeal injured his shoulder at the Kuskokwim 300, Robinson agreed to step in and run McNeal’s team.


“It’s probably the best way it could’ve happened for me because I tend to plan things out a lot and overthink things, and being just kind of tossed in it probably was the best for me,” he said. “I just had to run with it. And whatever happened, happens.”

Not only was this run more spontaneous, it was also more successful. Robinson finished in 11th this year after earning a 40th-place finish in 2001. His time of nine days, 23 hours, 22 minutes this year was almost three days faster — to the minute — than his first run (12:23:36).

“He’s basically a rookie,” Emily Robinson said. “It’s been a quarter of a century since he’s run his last (Iditarod) race. There are all these mushers who have been doing this for quite a long time. For him to come back to it and come in 11th place is really, really cool.”

His last run was literally more than a half of a lifetime ago for Robinson, now 43, who wasn’t even of legal drinking age when he ran the 2001 race.

Robinson finished with 14 dogs, the biggest team to complete the race in 2024. He even took three members of his daughter’s team — Lake, Vickie and Urchin, the latter two acting as his lead dogs. He started with 16 but said he made a concerted effort to maintain as large of a team as he could.

“That was the plan,” he said. “That was the whole point of me running Josh’s dogs, is to build that kennel for him. So yeah, my focus was trying to get as many as I could to Nome, but you know, it can be dictated by a lot of things. But yeah, it was pretty neat to see it all come together.”

Robinson said he had only a couple of training trips, so in the early stages of the race, he focused on getting to know the team and making sure the dogs were comfortable and familiar with him.

“We skipped several of the first checkpoints. Part of that was to camp out in the woods with the dogs so I could spend time with them and sleep with them on the straw, instead of spending time in a checkpoint,” he said. “(Try to) create that bond.”

Robinson said he thought a lot about his family on the trail, as well as the mushers he raced against when he first broke into the sport nearly 25 years ago.

“I was thinking about some of the people that no longer race that did when I started racing,” he said. “Thinking about those folks on different spots along the trail.”

[In a relay steeped in Iditarod history, Ryan Redington delivers race legend’s ashes to Nome]

It was also a trip down memory lane in many respects, passing through some of the same stretches of trail and village communities.

“I wish I could have gone through Dalzell Gorge in the daylight,” he said. “That was in the dark, and I would have liked to have seen it again. But yeah, there’s always neat spots along the trail that bring back memories. The Yukon for sure. I love the river and love the villages on the river and their lifestyles.”

At the finish line, Robinson demurred when asked if he’d return to run the race again.

“You’ll probably see a Robinson,” he said. “It probably won’t be me. But you’ll definitely see a Robinson, I’m sure.”

Emily Robinson, who could be eligible to run the 2026 Iditarod when she turns 18, still has plenty of time to contemplate her own Iditarod ambitions.

“I don’t know, maybe it’ll be two Robinsons,” she said. “There could be a surprise. We’ll see.”


Spring break to Nome

A small but boisterous crowd of supporters greeted Josi Thyr on Wednesday evening as she crossed the finish line, making her the first rookie to reach Nome in this year’s race.

The biggest scream came from Thyr’s 21-year-old sister Thea, who belted out “That’s my sister!” as the team arrived.

While many of her fellow college seniors at Embry-Riddle in Prescott, Arizona, were sunning in Cancun or Mazatlan, Thea Thyr was soaking in the Iditarod.

“There’s no place I’d rather be,” she said. “I have friends that are going to Mexico and everything. They’re like, ‘Where are you going?’ I was like, ‘Nome, Alaska.’ It’s a bit colder up here, but getting to watch my sister finish a race she’s dreamed about doing for almost 20 years now, that’s good enough for me.”

Josi Thyr, 30, who is originally from Idaho, relocated to Fairbanks in recent years. She’s trained with some of the best in the game, handling dogs for Aaron Burmeister and Jessie Royer.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Josi Thyr said. “I’m still in shock it happened, but I’m really, really proud of my dogs. (I’m) really thankful for so many people that are here that have helped me in small ways and big ways. It took a lot of people to help me get here, and I’m really grateful for everyone who believed in me and helped me get here.”

The rest of the field takes shape

By Thursday evening, just a few mushers remained on the trail as Anna Hennessy closed in on Nome in 24th place.

New Hampshire musher Bailey Vitello arrived in Nome around 1 a.m. Thursday, finishing in 10 days, 10 hours and 2 minutes for 17th place.


Rookie Gabe Dunham from Willow, Wasilla musher Jessica Klejka and Swede Mats Pettersson all arrived within 65 minutes of one another just before 6 a.m. Thursday to round out the top 20.

Two more competitors, veteran Knik musher Anna Berington and rookie Will Rhodes of Two Rivers, arrived early Thursday afternoon.

The Iditarod Trail Committee said Thursday that Preston, Idaho, musher Bryce Mumford dropped out late Wednesday in Unalakleet. Race officials said snowmachiners were sent to check on his team after he wasn’t making “sufficient progress on the trail” out of Kaltag. Mumford decided he could make it to Unalakleet and scratched there, according to the Iditarod.

Mumford’s scratch is the eighth in this year’s race out from a field of 38 starting teams.

A few other mushers had Nome in their sights on Thursday evening, and the remaining seven competitors on the trail, including Hennessy, were all rookies.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.