Lanier, Suprenant back on track

Locals hit the Iditarod trail running


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Chugiak’s Jim Lanier waves to the crowd during the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 4 in Willow. For race updates, visit www.iditarod.com

STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

For Mike Suprenant and Jim Lanier, the 2011 Iditarod was a race to forget.

Although the Chugiak residents hoped to run the race, both saw their plans derailed by medical issues as Lanier had his hip replaced and Suprenant injured himself in a four-wheeler accident.

On March 4, Suprenant and Lanier were among 66 mushers to hit the trail to Nome. And they couldn’t be happier — or healthier.

“I feel terrific,” Lanier, 71, said on Willow Lake shortly before pulling his snow hook as the second musher to leave the starting chute. “A new man.”

Suprenant said the time he had to sit on the sidelines and heal helped renew his enthusiasm for the sport.

“It gave me a winter to go to Las Vegas and kinda relax a bit,” he said.

Suprenant said the winter also allowed him to work with some of his younger dogs, which paid dividends when it came time to pick this year’s race team.

“This is the first time ever I’ve had problems deciding who was going to go,” he said.

Both men are veterans of past Iditarods. Lanier — who first ran the race in 1979 — is vying to become one of only a handful of mushers to run the race in five different decades. He’s finished 14 races, with his best finish an 18th-place run in 2004 — a year in which he said he had to work hard to keep in front of his wife, musher Anna Bondarenko.

“My only goal was to beat my wife, which I did, but it was very difficult,” he said.

Bondarenko, a teacher, said she plans to meet her husband in Nome this year. Because spring break coincides with the race finish, she said she’ll be able to take a couple days out of her schedule to help with the dogs.

In the meantime, she said she plans to spend much of her free time keeping an eye on Jim’s GPS tracking device online.

“I’m glued to the computer,” she said.

Suprenant has three previous starts under his belt, with his only finish coming in 2009, when he was 49th.

Both men said they were excited for this year’s race. Lanier said that even though he’s a longtime Iditarod veteran, there’s always new challenges to overcome out on the trail.

“There’s always more than one thing that you didn’t really plan on and you have to deal with it,” he said.

Suprenant, 47, said he has no illusions of winning this year’s race. Instead, he likes getting out on the trail not for the competition, but for the simple enjoyment of the sport.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back out there,” he said. “It’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of time, but it’s one of these things that I love to do and I’m proud to do. It’s a lifestyle, you know?”

While preparing their sleds to leave Willow at the race start, both said they were anxious to finally hit the trail. After months of preparation and planning, Lanier — who wears a set of hockey shoulder pads on the trail — said he was trying to figure out what small items needed to stay behind.

“What I’m trying to do right now is throw away stuff,” he said while looking over the contents of his sled bag. “If you think you might not need it, don’t take it.”

Suprenant said the feeling before an Iditarod is tense. But once the runners hit the trail, that tension turns quickly to joy.

“It’s more of a relief day,” he said. “I can finally get out there with the dogs and not sweat the details.”

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

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