When Kelly Maixner, of Beach, was unable to finish the 2014 Iditarod due to a wind storm that caught him 123 miles from the finish line in Nome, Alaska, he considered shelving his ambitions. His family was growing as his wife, Margaret, had given birth to their third child.
The pediatric dentist was in ninth place going into the last day and, along with three other top-10 mushers in that race, was forced to scratch his Mad Stork Kennel team. It was the only time in four previous Iditarod starts that Maixner was unable to finish.
In 2015, Maixner finished in 13th place, and his competitive spirit was rekindled.
Follow Maixner on his Mad Stork Kennel Facebook page.
On Saturday, he and his 16-dog team will hit the trail in his sixth start and, this year, he says he has the team to make a serious run at winning it all.
From his home in Big Lake, Maixner said the team he is taking to the starting line in Anchorage is more mature and experienced than other teams with which he has run. In previous races, his team consisted mostly of 2- to 4-year-olds. This year, his oldest dog is 7 and the youngest, 3.
The advantage is older dogs tend to be calmer and know better how to pace themselves, according to Maixner, 40. This year, an even-numbered year, the race will follow the northern route, 975 miles in all.
Maixner said he, too, is more experienced and can better avoid mistakes, especially when it comes to the dogs’ health. In addition to being a dentist, Maxiner has a background in physical therapy and has learned to read his dogs better and pick up on signs that might signal injury or illness.
He also has tweaked the training regime, adopting more of a marathon runner philosophy in terms of training. Maixner said he makes a decision on whether a dog has what it takes to go the distance after about 600 miles of running. His kennel has 48 dogs.
Training this year has been hit and miss, he said. Like North Dakota, Alaska has had a mild winter.
“It’s pretty brown around here right now," Maixner said.
That means loading up the team and sled and driving an hour to find good snow.
As of last week, the first 30 miles of the Alaskan trail is dirt, he said.
The warmer weather also means an adjustment to the dogs’ diet, from a high-fat meat diet to one with more salmon, which has higher water content, better for the dogs during warmer temperatures. Maixner said he will take nearly 2,000 pounds of food for the dogs for the race.
Maixner constructs his sled of carbon fiber and Kevlar, reducing the weight by more than 20 pounds from his first sled.
”I can lift it with two fingers," he said.
The top prize is $60,00 — about what it costs to compete each year — and a new Dodge truck.
The goal is a top-10 finish in the field of 85 mushers in the 44th Iditarod, according to Maixner, who says the key is to have dogs that like to work and are willing.
“A little luck helps, too," said Maixner, who will wear jersey No. 19.