George Attla of the Interior village of Huslia won 10 Fur Rendezvous World Championship sprint dog titles in Anchorage and eight Open North American Championship titles in Fairbanks during a distinguished mushing career that included a stirring rivalry with Roland “Doc” Lombard.
Attla, also known as the “Huslia Hustler,” was an unknown when he arrived in Anchorage for the 1958 Fur Rondy. Handicapped by a fused leg caused by childhood tuberculosis, Attla shocked racing fans by capturing his first world title. When the two sprint championships were in their heyday and thousands of fans crowded city streets to watch their favorites, Attla was the best musher in the world.
Racing at the front of the pack for three decades, Attla won his last Anchorage crown in 1982. At the height of their showdowns, Attla and Lombard, a veterinarian from Wayland, Mass., were the best-known athletes in Alaska.
Overcoming a difficult youth that included long stays away from his family for schooling and hospitalization, Attla was a natural “dog man” whose victories energized the small Native communities of the Far North and inspired thousands of Alaskans.
When the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began in 1973, Attla was one of the first entrants and placed fifth in the inaugural event.
The focus of the movie “Spirit of the Wind,” Attla died of lymphoma in 2015.
– Lew Freedman