Chants of "Roxy, Roxy, Roxy," rang out along Anchorage's Fourth Avenue on Sunday afternoon as Fairbanks musher Roxy Wright did the unbelievable.
Wright, 66, held on to win her fourth Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race — and her first in 24 years.
"It feels really incredible," said Wright, who trained and raced a dog team from the kennel of her friend and two-time champion, Arleigh Reynolds.
"I never thought I'd be back on this street racing."
Wright started the third and final 25-mile heat with a four-minute lead on second-place Buddy Streeper, a five-time Rondy champion from Fort Nelson, British Columbia.
Streeper's Sunday run of 86 minutes, 5 seconds was the fastest of the three-day race, but Wright finished nearly two minutes faster overall with a total time of 4:25:02. She finished Sunday's heat in 1:27:54.
Buddy took second and his wife, Lina Streeper, finished third.
Mark Hartum of Seba Beach, Canada, finished sixth as the fastest rookie.
But for Wright, it was the return to the top that she never expected. After her 11-dog team crossed the finish line, Wright immediately sank to the snow to embrace her lead dogs, 3-year-old Cloud and 2-year-old Pale.
"I had an awesome opportunity when Arleigh asked me if I could run 'em, help train the dogs," Wright said. "They are amazing dogs. I feel very honored and privileged for the honor of getting to train them and run them."
Wright was the only musher to finish in less than 89 minutes in each of the three 25-mile heats. She rocketed out to a nearly five-minute lead on Friday, the first day of racing, and the field couldn't catch her.
Streeper, who started the day in second place, made up nearly two minutes on Sunday with a day time of 1:26:05, but Wright also recorded her fastest run on the final day.
Wright, who no longer owns sled dogs, has helped train Reynolds' dogs on and off for years, but she only returned to racing last March at the Open North American Championship in Fairbanks, where she finished second.
Reynolds said they decided on Wright racing in the North American just three weeks before the race. Ten months later, Wright was in Anchorage holding her fourth Rondy gold-pan trophy.
"This is what you hope for," Reynolds said as he snapped photos of Wright and Cloud accepting the award as fans poured into the chute to mingle with the mushers. "This is what you train for."
With her fourth Rondy win, Wright surpassed her father, Gareth Wright, in Rondy victories. Gareth won Rondy titles in 1950, '52 and '57.
Wright said her love for sled dog racing started as a child when she would sit in the sled on rides with Gareth.
"I always looked up to my dad," Wright said. "I think he's pretty proud of me. Nothing makes a girl's heart happier than making her dad proud."
A great-grandmother and only woman to win the Rondy Open, Wright said she stayed busy in her two decades away from sled dog racing.
She enjoyed hunting and fishing, spending time with her grandchildren, taking care of her horses and she even took up a new hobby — metalsmithing. She said she enjoys making jewelry with her daughter, Tammy Holland.
But, somehow, Reynolds pulled Wright back into the sport and, at least for now, she enjoys racing sled dogs again.
Wright said she plans to race the Open North American Championship in Fairbanks again this spring.
Wright's win earned her $12,250 of the Rondy record $100,000 purse, and every finisher earned at least $1,000. The previous record was $80,000 in 2010.
Wright said the large purse is nice to see in a sprint race.
"That's (nice), especially for the sprint racing because there's only so many dogs that people have for dog mushin' and a lot of them have gone to long-distance and mid-distance racing," Wright said. "So it's pretty hard for sprint racers to maintain a team without very much purse (money)."
Streepers put two teams on podium
Lina Streeper's mushing career came full circle Sunday when she finished the Rondy in third place.
Her podium finish came eight years after she completed her first major sled dog race at the Rondy as a rookie in 2009.
"This is a dream come true to be on the podium," Lina said. "To lose to Bud and Roxy is not losing. I consider it a win to be in third place."
Buddy was also happy with how his team performed in its second-place finish. Buddy's team improved on its time each day over the three-day race.
"We work for a lot of years trying to prepare a team to just run this race, and then to get a team that performs like that, it's like going to the World Series and pitching a no-hitter," Buddy said. "They just run as good as they possibly could, and the chips fell where they did and that put us in second place, but regardless of that, I'm happy with the dogs' performance and we're excited."
When Buddy crossed the finish line, his 4-year-old daughter, Clara, jumped on his sled to ride the rest of the way through the race chute. Alva, 6, jumped on Lina's sled when she finished.
"My daughters are involved," Buddy said. "They're our puppy training specialists.
"They spend the time socializing the puppies and taking them inside and dressing them all up in toys and clothes and stuff.
"The kids really love the dogs. I like them to have the opportunity to be a part of it like I did when I was little."
Before the race, Buddy said some of his earliest memories were watching his father, Terry Streeper, and uncle, former champion Eddy Streeper, race against Wright 30 years ago.
"I'm proud to say I got to race with Roxy, and I'm so looking forward to racing with her in Fairbanks," he said.
Fur Rendezvous Open World Championships
(Day 1 time, Day 2 time, Day 3 time, total time)
1) Roxy Wright, Fairbanks, 1:28:40, 1:28:28, 1:27:54, 4:25:02
2) Blayne Streeper, Fort Nelson, British Columbia, 1:33:30, 1:27:43, 1:26:05, 4:27:18
3) Lina Streeper, Fort Nelson, British Columbia, 1:35:34, 1:28:55, 1:28:36, 4:33:05
4) Jason Dunlap, East Salcha, 1:33:39, 1:35:08, 1:32:56, 4:41:43
5) John Erhart, Tanana, 1:33:20, 1:33:27, 1:35:16, 4:42:03
6) Mark Hartum, Seba Beach, Alberta, 1:33:53, 1:33:35, 1:36:37, 4:44:05
7) Emilie Entrikin, Fairbanks, 1:34:25, 1:36:11, 1:33:32, 4:44:08
8) Marvin Kokrine, North Pole, 1:39:04, 1:34:37, 1:33:01, 4:46:42
9) Jeff Conn, Ester, 1:37:43, 1:33:47, 1:37:14, 4:48:44
10) Don Cousins, Crooked Creek, 1:38:12, 1:36:50, 1:36:32, 4:51:34
11) Gary Markley, Anchorage, 1:34:30, 1:36:54, 1:41:03, 4:52:27
12) Hyunchul "Nikki" Seo, Salcha, 1:38:47, 1:36:59, 1:38:35, 4:54:21
13) James Wheeler, Clam Gulch, 1:36:34, 1:39:56, 1:40:56, 4:57:26
14) Dave Turner, Fairbanks, 1:44:06, 1:37:52, 1:39:00, 5:00:58
15) Danny Beck, Hay River, NWT, 1:40:40, 1:38:14, 1:43:35, 5:02:29
16) Anthony Beck, Hay River, NWT, 1:34:21 1:41:41 1:46:41 5:02:43
17) Bill Kornmuller, Willow, 1:45:25, 1:41:26, 1:44:44, 5:11:35
18) J.P. Norris, Willow, 1:49:30, 1:50:18, 1:50:41, 5:30:29
19) George Attla III, North Pole, 1:50:05, 1:59:11, scratch