Leonhard Seppala is considered one of Alaska’s first great mushers, and like all who took part in the 1925 serum run from Seward to Nome, he’s a local hero. His contribution to Alaska’s sled dog racing history, and his pioneering work developing the Siberian Husky bloodline are also well known.
Seppala didn’t start out working with dogs, though. He was recruited to Alaska from Norway by fellow Norwegian Jafet Lindeberg, who had struck it rich in Nome. Lindeberg convinced Seppala to come work for his Pioneer Mining Company. The work was difficult for Seppala, and he regretted his decision to leave home, until he became a sled dog driver, mushing supplies up to 100 miles each day. When Lindeberg asked him to train a sled dog team for an expedition Roald Amundsen was planning, he found his calling. The expedition was ultimately cancelled and Seppala got to keep the dogs.
Later, he began racing in the All Alaska Sweepstakes, winning a spot in the annals of sled dog racing history for three wins. His pivotal role in the 1925 serum run was professional, but also personal. His eight-year-old daughter Sigrid was in Nome, in danger of contracting diphtheria herself. Seppala and his team mushed five times farther than any other team during that effort. Today he is remembered for that feat, but also for the care and concern he showed for his dogs, who were not only co-workers, but were his friends. The prestigious Alaska Airlines Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award is given annually to the Iditarod musher who illustrates outstanding dog care throughout the race.
Learn more about Leonhard Seppala at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, take a stroll down Front Street, where he won the All Alaska Sweepstakes three times, or reflect on Seppala’s contributions as you head into town from the airport on Seppala Drive.