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Musher Mike Williams, Jr. Reflects on Iditarod

“My family and relatives make my races happen.”

March 1, 2023

Veteran Akiak musher Mike Williams, Jr. is getting ready to race his eighth Iditarod in March 2023.

Mike Williams Jr.

Musher Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak

Being a musher in western Alaska isn’t easy, especially with the recent salmon crashes that impacted an important part of sled dogs’ usual diet.

Last year, Williams had an emergency appendectomy that forced him to withdraw from the Iditarod shortly before it began.

But 4-5 weeks after surgery, he was able to get back on the runners and join the last three sled dog races of the season.

Every time I race, I try to do well, and that’s usually the motivating factor—the competition. And then it’s working with the dogs, which is pretty interesting,” Williams said on a recent phone call from Akiak.

“Every new dog—even the same dog—they are different every year. They get a little tougher, a little more trail hardened, and in their later years, they tend to take it easier,” he explained. “The younger dogs, you have to slow them down. The older dogs, you try to keep them happy and motivate them.”

Williams said that without his sponsors, including Calista, Donlin Gold, and Lynden Air Cargo, he wouldn’t have been able to compete in the Iditarod, which takes a lot of time and money.

He also can’t compete without support from family and community. “My family and relatives make my races happen,” he says.

Williams is also grateful to other mushers, who raced some of his dogs last year while he was recuperating, and loaned him some dogs this year when he was short of a full team.

“We were restricted from fishing all summer, but I’ve been fortunate that people have helped with dog food. When they cleaned out their freezers, they brought food to the dogs. That is a huge help,” he said.

Williams, a father of five ranging from 4 to 12 years old, thinks that the 2023 race might be his last Iditarod.

“The years go pretty fast, and I don’t want to miss my kids growing up.”

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