NOME, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s been Thomas Waerner’s dream since childhood to win the Iditarod. The 46-year-old musher was born in England and grew up in Torpa, Norway, often reading about Iditarod icons like Martin Buser and Susan Butcher.
Iditarod musher Thomas Waerner arriving at the Unalakleet checkpoint. (KTUU)
“The dream of the Iditarod has always been there. I think it’s the greatest thing you can do as a dog musher,” said Waerner at the Unalakleet checkpoint.
Before Waerner became a musher, he was a dog handler for Iditarod musher Roger Legaard in 1990, as well as Charlie Champagne and Roxy Wright in 1991.
In 2015, Waerner made his Iditarod debut and finished 17th, capturing Rookie of the Year honors. The 46-year-old musher returned to the race in 2020 with a goal of being competitive.
“I didn’t rest much at the beginning. The first two days I slept 50 minutes, so that’s not much,” said Waerner.
Despite a restless start to the race, Waerner was able to keep up with the top mushers. Deep and difficult trail conditions favored Waerner's dog team heading to the coast. He was the first team to arrive at the Unalakleet checkpoint creating distance between himself and the rest of the race when other mushers took a break at the Old Woman cabin between Kaltag and Unalakleet.
“If you want to win, you have to take some chances,” Waerner said upon arrival at the Unalakleet checkpoint on Saturday.
Waerner would blitz up the coast with confidence, and a large lead. At the Koyuk checkpoint, the reality of this year’s race began to sink in for mushers still chasing Waerner on the final day of the race.
“Thomas is in the driver’s seat in a big way,” said Aaron Burmeister who arrived at the checkpoint four hours after Waerner.
“Something would have to go wrong for him, we are not catching Thomas,” said Jessie Royer, who arrived ten minutes before Burmeister, and led the race through much of its duration.
If Waerner is able to win the Iditarod, he will join an exclusive group of Norwegian mushers to win the famed race, which includes Joar Leifseth Ulsom, 2018's champion, and Robert Sorlie, who won in 2003 and 2005.
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