More than 20 years after she last raced the Rondy, three-time champion Roxy Wright of Fairbanks leads the field after the first day of the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race.
Wright, a 66-year-old great-grandmother, finished the first of three 25-mile heats in 88 minutes, 40 seconds, Friday in Anchorage.
"I'm incredibly happy," Wright said. "I never expected to, I guess, win (the heat) and especially by as much as I did. But, it's a three-day race and anything can happen in a race.
"The dogs look good, I have a great pit crew, so we'll be back again (Saturday) and Sunday and hopefully we can do this."
Wright, whose last Rondy title came in 1993 when she was 42, is racing with dogs from the kennel of 2013 and 2014 champion Arleigh Reynolds. Five of her 15 dogs dogs — Stratos, Rondy, Gehrig, Cal and Muldoon — were part of Reynolds' championship teams.
Wright finished nearly five minutes faster than her closest competitor.
John Erhart of Tanana was second in 1:33:20, 10 seconds faster than five-time champion Buddy Streeper of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, who was third.
Wright said she has raced the Rondy close to 20 times. Her first win came in 1989.
She retired from racing in 1996 and didn't return until March, when she finished second at the Open North American Championship in Fairbanks, racing Reynolds' dogs.
Wright said she no longer owns any sled dogs, but she's good friends with Reynolds — who retired after his 2014 Rondy win — and has helped train his dogs on and off over the last 15 years.
"We both have the same mentality: If you're gonna train a dog team, you've gotta train it to do well … It's a lot of work, so you might as well race them," Wright said.
Streeper, another favorite in this weekend's race, said he remembers watching his uncle, former champion Eddy Streeper, and his father, Terry Streeper, compete against Wright 30 years ago.
"It's great seeing Roxy out," Streeper said at the Wednesday race draw banquet. "I grew up in the sport, so one of my first memories, when I was 3 years old, was watching the live satellite feed of this street right here, Fourth Avenue, and watching my uncle and my father compete in this race. And who was their main competition? Roxy Wright.
"Now, 30 years later, I'm here competing (against her)."
Wright said she was battling a cold in the days leading up to the race and she still had a cough Friday.
"I still got a cold, but my friend (and fellow racer) Marvin Kokrine gave me some chaga tea and rat root and good Native medicine and I think it's helping me get better," Wright said.
The 19 Rondy teams raced through light, wet snowfall with temperatures in the high 20s.
Veterans like Wright, Erhart and Streeper excelled, but a group of rookies also notched fast times.
Rookies Mark Hartum, Anthony Beck and Emilie Entrikin finished fifth through seventh, respectively.
"It's our first time running this race, so we were a little bit anxious at the start of the day about all the culverts and tunnels and road crossings and everything," Hartum said of his 16-dog team. "Some of the dogs have never seen anything like that before, but they did fantastic. We didn't have any troubles out there."
Hartum said the wet snow and high temperatures made for some tough conditions, so his team stumbled a couple times in the soft snow, but overall they were able to keep a steady pace.
The conditions left the mushers with soaking wet gloves and jackets, but they didn't dampen Hartum's spirits.
"We just wanted to get through Day 1 nice and clean and safe, and we did that, so we're happy," Hartum said. "Came in with all 16 on the line still wagging their tails, so that's a good sign."
Racing continues Saturday and Sunday at noon. The start and finish line is at Fourth Avenue and D Street.
Fur Rendezvous World Championships
1) Roxy Wright, Fairbanks, 1:28:40
2) John Erhart, Tanana, 1:33:20
3) Buddy Streeper, Fort Nelson, British Columbia, 1:33:30
4) Jason Dunlap, East Salcha, 1:33:39
5) Mark Hartum, Seba Beach, Alberta, 1:33:53
6) Anthony Beck, Hay River, NWT, 1:34:21
7) Emilie Entrikin, Fairbanks, 1:34:25
8) Gary Markley, Anchorage, 1:34:30
9) Lina Streeper, Fort Nelson, British Columbia, 1:35:34
10) James Wheeler, Clam Gulch, 1:36:34
11) Jeff Conn, Ester, 1:37:43
12) Don Cousins, Crooked Creek, 1:38:12
13) Hyunchul "Nikki" Seo, Salcha, 1:38:47
14) Marvin Kokrine, 1:39:04
15) Danny Beck, Hay River, NWT, 1:40:40
16) Dave Turner, Fairbanks, 1:44:06
17) Bill Kornmueller, Willow, 1:45:25
18) J.P. Norris, Willow, 1:49:30
19) George Attla III, North Pole, 1:50:05