Iditarod XLVI: Who is Joar Leifseth Ulsom?

Joar Leifseth Ulsom in Unalakleet. Photo by Mille Porsild.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A Norwegian has made his way to the front of the pack in Iditarod 46, and in the homestretch of this year’s competition, it appears that this race could be anyone’s to win – including Joar Leifseth Ulsom.

Norway’s Ulsom - who is said to have begun his mushing career as a child when he borrowed his neighbor’s dogs for the purpose of pulling him around on skis - took the lead in Iditarod 46 on Monday morning after leapfrogging longtime frontrunner Nicolas Petit on the way to the Koyuk checkpoint. Ulsom was the third to depart Shaktoolik behind Petit and three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey.

The veteran Seavey and Petit, who was third in last year’s race after clocking the fastest time from Safety to Nome, have great track records. Ulsom though isn’t short of Iditarod accolades himself, having been the fastest rookie to have ever run the race. He was named Rookie of the Year in 2013 after a stellar 7th-place finish and is also, according to his Iditarod biography, one of only two mushers to place in the top seven five times in as many starts.

The Iditarod, however, isn’t the only high-profile competition in which the 31-year-old Ulsom has successfully participated. He and his team have become seasoned racers, first competing in the Yukon Quest in 2012.

“(Yukon) Quest is never ‘a normal year,” he told Channel 2 in 2015. “Always something happening.”

The same can be said for the Russian Nadezhda Hope race, a grueling, 670-kilometer-long trail along the country's eastern coast that Ulsom conquered in record time and went on to win again.

It’s challenges like those that have given Ulsom the ability to spend quality time with his dogs, something he’s previously said he loves most about running with them.

With dreams fueled by watching Iditarod movies as a child, Ulsom in 2011 left his home in Mo i Rana, Norway - located just south of the Arctic Circle – for Alaska. Dogs in tow, he and his four-legged friends have been in Alaska ever since, according to Iditarod officials.

"I'm glad there's [sic.] more teams coming over from Norway, because dog mushing is really big there,” Ulsom told reporters during a previous race. “It's nice to show people from Alaska that we can be just as good, or keep up with them."

Ulsom also reportedly works full-time with his pups as well as other teammates as part of a non-profit venture, Team Racing Beringia, which helps students explore the region that spans from Canada to Russia. And even in Alaska, Ulsom remains a member of Norwegian dog club Rana Trekk-og Brukshundklubb.

"It is an incredible achievement and great for the club and local community here in Rana," Bjørn Kristiansen, head of the dog racing committee in Rana Trakt and Brukshundklubb, told Norwegian news outlet NRK.

Stick with KTUU.com for the latest on Ulsom and all the action brewing in Iditarod 46.