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Fantasy league brings mushing fans closer to the trail

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Katie Basile/KYUK Public Media
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One of the mushers behind Fantasy Mushing has never stepped foot — or sled — in Alaska.

David Hunt of Paris, Texas doesn’t let that quash his love for the sport. He has three Alaska huskies and he runs them when he can.

"I dryland mush them here, in Texas, on a bike or cart," he said. "And once in a while when we have snow, I have a sled that I’ll get them out on."

That was the case when his home state was clobbered with a snow and ice storm last February.

But when he’s not running his own dogs, Hunt runs the site Fantasy Mushing, where mushing enthusiasts go head-to-head with fantasy teams of their own design.

It functions in some ways like a fantasy football league, but with a twist. Participants can’t only pick the mushers they think will win for their teams. They also have to pick rookies and racers who fall more in the middle of the metaphorical pack.

“So that fans will learn to follow not just the top 10, not just the top mushers, but everyone in there," Hunt said. "And we also give points for awards.”

Fantasy Mushing started with musher Danny Seavey, part of Alaska's Iditarod-winning Seavey family.

Seavey set up a fantasy mushing league years ago and kept track of it by hand. Independently, Hunt — who was introduced to dogsled racing by a teacher — developed a website of his own from Texas.

Hunt and Seavey connected and, in 2017, joined forces.

Hunt said Fantasy Mushing sees the most activity during the Iditarod. But they’ve expanded out to other races, too, including the Kuskokwim 300. This weekend, Hunt and about 300 other Fantasy Mushing users will be following the K300 — a middle-distance race that starts and ends in Bethel.

Toni Reitter will be following that race too, from Kenai. Reitter was born and raised on the Kenai Peninsula. She said she grew up with an appreciation for the sport.

"And I did want to be Susan Butcher as a kid," she said, laughing. "But then realized that’s a lot of scooping poop in the dead of winter and that didn’t sound like fun.”

Although she never became a musher herself, Reitter worked with the Seaveys and in a myriad mushing-adjacent jobs. She also blogs about the race.

She said she has friends who get really invested in their Fantasy Mushing leagues, compiling and analyzing spreadsheets of mushers.

"It’s almost like fantasy football, with their drafts and everything," she said. "It’s the same thing with fantasy mushing. There are people who take it really seriously.”

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Credit Courtesy of David Hunt
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David Hunt had the chance to take his huskies out for a run last February when it snowed at his home in Paris, Texas. Usually, he races them on a bike or cart.

But she said it's a way for people who aren’t so entrenched in the world of mushing to get involved, too. 

"My mom actually beat me this last year during fantasy mushing and she knows nothing about the sport," she said.

Hunt said he hopes Fantasy Mushing gets more people excited about dogsled racing. The Fantasy Mushing Facebook group has about 1,500 members from all over the country.

You can follow along with the Kuskokwim 300 race this weekend at KYUK.org. The Bethel-based public radio station will be covering the competition starting Friday at 6:30 p.m. You can find a schedule of race events here.

To make your own fantasy bracket, visit fantasymushing.com

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