Leonhard Seppala, originally from a small fishing village in Norway, came to Alaska in the early in 1900s, and was immediately drawn to caring for, training and racing dogs; Siberian Huskies to be precise, a new breed brought over from Russia only years before. Seppala transformed his dogs into racing champions through the years, culminating in three consecutive dominating victories at the All Alaska Sweepstakes.
Seppala’s determination, spirit, courage and love for his dogs, which he displayed throughout his life, are the criteria used to award the Seppala Heritage grant, to help a new and upcoming musher leave his own mark at the Iditarod.
Being on assignment for TogoRun in Anchorage has given me the opportunity to speak to this year’s Seppala Heritage grant recipient, Mike Ellis.
Ellis, a New England native, has been mushing for nearly 20 years. He dreamt of competing in the Iditarod since he was a little boy. Thanks to the Seppala Heritage grant, this year, he got his chance.
Ellis and his wife, Sue, raise and train all of their dogs, noting, “Our lives revolve around our dogs’ world, just as Seppala’s huskies did.” As Ellis heads toward Nome, his team is comprised solely of Siberian Huskies, making him the only musher in the race to have that distinction—yet another trait he shares with the great Leonhard Seppala.
I caught up with Mike Ellis in Anchorage prior to the start of the race to get his thoughts on the legacy of Togo and Seppala, and what it means for him to be a Seppala Heritage grant recipient.
You can view my interview below:
Video filmed by Marc Heft. Edited by Jesse Tarlton.
The Iditarod was inspired by the 1925 Race for Mercy or Serum Run, during which life-saving diphtheria serum was delivered to Nome via sled dog teams. All of the dogs were amazing, including the most famous, Balto. But it was Leonhard Seppala and a 12-year old, undersized husky, named Togo, who led a team five times further than any other sled dog team over treacherous, unchartered territory. Without Togo, the villagers of Nome would likely have perished. This blog post is part of TogoRun’s campaign to tell Togo’s untold story.