The countdown to the Iditarod is on. An honorary musher is named each year to start first at the Downtown Anchorage ceremony. This year’s honorary musher has been involved with the “last great race” for over three decades.
The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) named Wilson Hughes this year’s honorary musher in a press release last month, commending his contributions to the Iditarod and his lasting impact on the sport of sled dog racing.
Hughes bought a one-way ticket from Missouri to Alaska over half a century ago. He began working at Alascom, a telecommunications company that sponsored the Iditarod at the time.
“I spent a lot of trips to Nome back in those days and was there to watch the first team go in, in 73, and always admired it and enjoyed it.”
Hughes later started working for GCI, another telecommunications company. Around the same time, he said Alascom dropped their sponsorship for the race. He said he saw this as an opportunity for GCI.
“We grabbed it and have been very active in it ever since.”
Stan Hooley, a former CEO of the race, said in the press release that Hughes helped establish GCI as an official sponsor in 1994 and is one of the longest standing sponsors for the race.
Hughes said one of his proudest moments is what he calls “cleaning up the act.” He said while many people love the Iditarod, there were moments when he wasn’t fond of the reputation it garnered.
“We needed to prove to the world that we cared about the canine members of the race as much as we cared about the human members of the race. And I think there was a big shift in attitudes, both on the mushers part, boards part, and the sponsors part.”
Hughes said he plans to bring something special off the finish line to remember being this year’s honorary musher, but is still deciding what he wants that item to be.
The Iditarod has its ceremonial start in March on Saturday, Mar. 2 in downtown Anchorage, which is just a celebration of the race. The race officially begins the following day in Willow, about an hour and a half north of Anchorage.
Photo at top: Wilson Hughes and some of his family standing at the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage. Hughes will be the first musher off the starting line this year. (Courtesy Wilson Hughes)