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Bill Spencer has a knack for leaving his mark in permanent ink. Once he sets a standard for greatness - something else he has a knack for - it seems to last forever. In a race where Alaska legends are made, few names are etched more deeply in Mount Marathon lore than Spencer's, whose records are recited with reverence every summer as the annual mountain run in Seward approaches.
Dr. Bradford Washburn, director of Boston’s Museum of Science, was one of the greatest of all Alaska adventurers -- without ever living in the state. Yet in more than 70 trips to the North Country, Washburn established a reputation as a pre-eminent mountain climber, mountain photographer and mapmaker.
Buck Nystrom won more games than any other coach in Alaska high school history, but was known more for his work with the players he coached than for the number of wins on the scoreboard. Nystrom posted a 150-88 record during his 31 years on the sidelines at Ben Eielson and North Pole high schools. But it was his character and the way he helped mold young men that gave him respect throughout the coaching community.
Carlos Boozer’s game was born in Juneau, but it came alive in the NBA. Boozer blossomed into one of the world’s elite players on the planet’s greatest hoops stage, earning his first NBA All-Star nod in 2007 and establishing himself as Alaska’s greatest basketball player. The 6-foot-9 Boozer is a beast inside and resembles the grizzly bear tattooed on his left shoulder.
Born with a deformed right hand, Juneau pitcher Chad Bentz was dismissed his entire life. Elementary school peers taunted him in gym class and high school opponents did the same when he stepped on the mound. Through it all, Bentz, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate with more Major League appearances than any other Alaskan, turned the insults into inspiration, the mockery into motivation.
Chuck White was unlike any basketball coach in Alaska’s history. Never mind the record 921 games he won and 18 state championships he captured in 45 years of coaching at the high school level, he had a polarizing personality that made him larger than life. Whether you loved him or hated him, White kept hoops relevant in The Last Frontier. He was front-page news.
Even as a toddler, Corey Cogdell was a good shot. She started off blasting tin cans in Chickaloon and by the time she hit grade school she could hit a spruce hen at 75 yards. As she grew up, her targets changed but her aim didn’t. Cogdell bagged her first moose at age 18 and pocketed her first Olympic medal at age 21.
During an athletic career that spanned more than six decades, Dick Mize compiled an extensive resume that included a spot on the 1960 Olympic biathlon team. He is also the man behind the city’s maze of ski trails, including the Mize Loop, one of the most popular trails at Kincaid Park.
Alaska’s first Olympic runner, Don Clary starred at Anchorage’s East High.
George Attla of the Interior village of Huslia won 10 Fur Rendezvous World Championship sprint dog titles in Anchorage and 8 North American Open sprint dog 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.
Herb Didrickson was given the perfect Tlingit name, Junkhateen, which translates in English to “fast or quick hands.” A great all-around athlete of mixed ancestry – Tlingit and Norwegian – the 5-10 Didrickson outran, outpassed, outshot, and even outjumped opponents almost a foot taller. Considered by many as the Jim Thorpe of Alaska, Didrickson dominated in basketball, baseball, track and field, and cross country growing up in the Southeast community of Sitka.
Not many athletes do what Hilary Lindh did: Start a career as the best, and end it more than a decade later as the best. Lindh was 16 years old when she shook up the American ski world by winning the downhill title at the 1986 national championships. Days later, she stunned the whole world by becoming the first American to win the downhill at the World Junior Championships.
The journey that took Holly Brooks from ski coach to two-time Olympic skier rivals any storybook. Brooks became an elite athlete relatively late in life, coming from nowhere to make the 2010 Winter Olympics cross-country ski team at age 27 and becoming a key figure in the rise of the U.S. women’s ski team on the international stage.
Janay DeLoach became an Olympic medalist despite coming from a school that only had a dirt track.
Four state championships as a coach. Three Alaska player of the year awards. Two state championships as a player. One NCAA Division 1 All-America Award. Do the math and you get a snapshot of Jeannie Hebert-Truax's athletic career. She is one of Alaska's greatest high school players, one of its greatest college players and one of its greatest high school coaches.
Jeff King is among a small group of dog mushers that have won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race at least four times. King has also distinguished himself by winning mushing events of all lengths more frequently than anyone. A resident of Denali Park, Alaska, King won the Iditarod in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2006. King was also king of the Yukon Quest, the world’s other prominent 1,000-mile race, in 1989.
A trailblazer on the basketball court, Jessica Moore of Palmer achieved unprecedented success for an Alaskan in ...
Known to many simply as Coach, Floyd is the architect and patriarch of youth and high school sports in Kodiak. He arrived in 1955 for a teaching job, fresh out of the University of Mississippi, and stayed until his death in 2020 at age 89.
Lionized as “The Father of the Iditarod,” Joe Redington Sr. virtually invented modern long-distance dog racing and made it into the Alaska state sport. During his decades as a homesteader in the Alaska Bush, and then in Knik with a kennel of up to 500 dogs, Redington became the patron saint of the Alaska husky that he feared being phased out in favor of the snowmobile. An adventurer who mushed more than 250,000 miles, Redington brought the sled dog back to prominence by overseeing the organization and fund-raising for the first 1,100-mile Iditarod in 1973.
For four years at Ketchikan High School, John Brown dominated action under the basket with legendary skill and was widely recognized as the top basketball player in Alaska in the 1960's.
First American woman to win a World Cup medal. First American woman to win a World Cup gold medal. First American woman – and second American ever – to win a World Championship medal. After winning the first of two consecutive World Cup sprint medals in December 2010, Randall took a moment to reflect on how far she has come.
Kris Thorsness keeps her Olympic gold medal in her sock drawer, but she isn’t afraid to take it out and let other people wear it. “My poor medal shows its wear,’’ she said. “Mine has been touched and put on and dropped. It’s been well-loved.’’ Alaskans have done their share of the loving. People still revel in Thorsness’ victory at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles because she was the first Alaskan to win an Olympic medal, the first to prove Alaskans belong on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
An iron-man musher with a kennel of wonderdogs, Lance Mackey has dominated long distance sled-dog racing like nobody in the history of the sport. A throat cancer survivor who started his career in Kasilof on the Kenai Peninsula and later moved north of Fairbanks, Mackey in 2007 accomplished what most people thought was impossible when he won both the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Not many women were running back in the late 1960s when Marcie Trent started churning out the miles and inspiring others to do the same. She didn’t begin running until she was 50, but once she started, she never stopped. Her many accomplishments included age-group world records in the marathon, 11 national age-group records at various distances and 25 Alaska age-group records.
Of all the basketball players from Alaska, nobody has achieved more success than the 6-foot-2 point guard from Anchorage. He is the only Alaskan to win championships in high school, college and the pros, and he's nearly done it twice. This guy just wins at any level - hitting big shots every step of the way.
Offensive linemen aren’t supposed to rack up gawdy numbers. Touchdowns, sacks, interceptions, tackles, rushing yards – those belong to the high-profile positions like quarterback, running back, cornerback and linebacker. Offensive linemen toil anonymously and accumulate no statistics. Unless you’re Mark Schlereth.
A Swiss native turned Alaskan, Martin Buser came to the Last Frontier for a year and hasn’t left. He also became one of the most famous Alaskans for his accomplishments in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Carle became the first Alaska defenseman to play in the NHL and remains the only Alaska blueliner to reach that peak. Carle carved out a 12-season career in the world’s best league, skating for the San Jose Sharks, who drafted him in the second round in 2003, as well as the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators. He played a combined 857 NHL games before retiring in 2016, generating a combined 51 goals and 276 assists for 327 points.
The mountains of Southcentral Alaska may crumble before Nancy Pease’s trail-running records tumble. Pease's resume is legendary and her records are as solid as rock. Nine-time champion and record holder at Crow Pass. Five-time champion and record holder at Bird Ridge. Six-time champion at Mount Marathon and 24-year record-holder at Mount Marathon.
Nicole Johnston is 5 feet tall and is famous for kicking – with both feet at once -- a sealskin-covered ball no bigger than an apple as it dangled at a height of 6 feet, 6 inches. She is one of the most decorated athletes in Native sports history with more than 100 medals from WEIO, the Arctic Winter Games and the Native Youth Olympics.
For more than a decade, Nina Kemppel reigned as America’s queen of the ski trails and Alaska’s queen of the mountain, doing so with equal parts style and substance. Her record as one of the country’s best cross-country skiers is documented in the U.S. record books. During an international racing career that spanned 13 years and four Winter Olympics, Kemppel claimed a record 18 national championships.
Adventurer Norman Vaughan embodied the spirit of the north. Always upbeat, always energetic, always dreaming, Vaughan’s exploits in the remarkable century of his grand symphony of a life were a genuine celebration as he morphed into Alaska’s favorite story-telling grandpa.
If there’s one man responsible for making baseball in Alaska what it is today, it’s none other than H.A. “Red” Boucher. Boucher founded the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks in 1960 under the sponsorship of the sporting goods store he owned in Fairbanks. The team, then known as the Pan Alaska Goldpanners, joined the North of the Range League.
Reggie Joule has always had a special inspirational ability to soar and touch the sky. The greatest practitioner of the blanket toss in the long history of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, Joule learned the games of his Inupiat Eskimo people at a young age, at first outdoors where he could see the beauty of the horizon stretching across Kotzebue Bay, and then indoors, where gold ulus were awarded to champions.
Throughout a prolific football career that catapulted defensive back Reggie Tongue from Fairbanks’ Lathrop High to ...
Rick Swenson owns a record five Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race championships. The Two Rivers musher won his first in the 1,100- mile race across the state between Anchorage and Nome in 1977, won again in 1979, 1981 and 1982, while relying on his famed lead dog Andy, and with remarkable drama captured his fifth crown in 1991.
Even without the bronze medal she won at the 2006 Winter Olympics, Girdwood snowboarder Rosey Fletcher boasts the resume of a champion, complete with World Championship medals, World Cup victories and national championships. But it wasn’t until she claimed a medal on the world’s biggest sporting stage that her career was truly complete — especially because the Olympics had been so cruel to Fletcher on two previous occasions.
Before Scott Gomez even hit his teenage years, the buzz began building in Anchorage’s hockey community. This kid is a special one, went the chorus from the puck prophets, and he could be The One. Gomez did not disappoint -- he is unquestionably Alaska’s greatest hockey player, and its most decorated.
Susan Butcher grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, began dog mushing in Colorado, and became a legend in Alaska with four victories in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race between 1986 and 1990. Tutored by race founder and good friend Joe Redington Sr., who announced to the world Butcher would become a champion, the hard-nosed competitor was renowned for her single-minded focus and checkpoint acumen.
Tommy Moe will always be Alaska’s Golden Boy, the skier from the top of the world who became king of the world during one perfect week in Norway. He sent Alaska into a happy frenzy -- and the rest of the world into a state of shock -- by winning the downhill championship at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Four days later, he celebrated his 24th birthday by claiming the silver medal in the super-G, becoming the first American skier to win two medals at the same Olympics.
A basketball prodigy renowned for his hard work, Trajan Langdon single-handedly raised the profile of Alaska high school basketball in the Lower 48 states with his prowess as a 6-foot-3, barrier-breaking guard for East High School in Anchorage during the 1990s. In his four seasons starting for the Thunderbirds, Langdon led his team to three consecutive Alaska large-school state championships and became the first player in state history to be selected player-of-the-year three times.
Vern Tejas electrified Alaskans in 1988 when he became the first person to complete a solo winter ascent of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley in winter, out-lasting the harsh seasonal elements with a dramatic climb. During a storm Tejas had to dig a snow cave for survival and later said he felt the love and prayers of Alaskans supporting him as he waited out the blizzard in order to return safely to sea level. That was the beginning of Tejas’ high-profile achievements in the mountaineering world as he spent the next two decades roaming the earth as an internationally acclaimed mountain guide.
Virgil Hooe is synonymous with volleyball in Alaska, a man who has elevated and influenced the sport more than anyone.
Wally Leask was a man ahead of the times when he played basketball at the University of Washington in the early 1940s. His ballhandling skills were light years ahead of the norm, making him the perfect floor-general for Huskies coach Hec Edmundson, who is widely credited for originating fast-break basketball during those years. He was a star at Sitka’s Sheldon Jackson boarding school, showing so much talent his parents sent him to Seattle for his final two years of high school. That’s how Edmundson found him.