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2015 Yukon Quest Mushers Celebrate at Awards Banquet

Fairbanks, AK - Mushers, fans and member of the race organization gathered for the 2015 Yukon Quest awards banquet Saturday Night. It was a night to share stories, reflect on this year’s race and recognize exemplary performance.

When Brent Sass arrived for the awards banquet, the 2015 Yukon Quest Champion said he knew it would be an emotional evening. ”I’m still pinching myself everyday when I get up to make sure that it’s for real but it’s been fun,” he smiled. “It’s been a really overwhelming couple of days here with all the overwhelming support that I’ve had and all the well wishers and everybody that is so stoked that I was able to pull it off this. Tonight’s going to be, I’ve been calling it the ‘Cry Fest 2015,’” joked Sass.

Sass’s lead dogs, Sound and Basin, were awarded golden Harnesses and a steak dinner for their effort on the trail.  “These dogs are just amazing dogs and inspire me to be better every single day,” Sass said. “You couldn’t ask for better best friends in the world.  These two are absolutely amazing sled dogs.”

Sass and his dogs were not only recognized for their first place finish. The 35-year-old also won the Veterinarian’s Choice Award for excellent dog care on the trail. Sass says it means more than his Championship.

“Oh yeah. That’s the pinnacle award, that’s the most important one,” said Sass. “Taking care of your dogs is the number one thing out there and when the vets recognize the fact that you took care of your dogs, that’s awesome,” he said.

Sass says it’s taken him years to improve on his dog care and he thanked close friend and fellow Yukon Quest musher Mike Ellis.

“I prepared the dogs better for the race this year than I ever have and I think that’s what it really boils down to and then just paying attention to the details,” he said. “That’s what Mike and Sue Ellis have instilled in me ever since I started hanging out wit them. It’s those small details that go a thousand miles, you know?”

Ellis, who finished tenth this year, was flattered by Sass’s comments.

“What can I say? We’ve had good success and I’m proud of that and if I can lead by example, then that’s awesome,” said Ellis.

Ellis and wife Sue are well known for their exemplary dog care. The two raise and run the fastest Siberian huskies in the world. During the awards ceremony, red lantern finisher, Rob Cooke also thanked them.

There are a few ignorant people in this sport who have developed this phrase called ‘slowberians,’ and it’s a phrase that annoys a few people.  We always aspire to people like Mike and Sue Ellis who have done a lot to prove there’s no such thing as a ‘slowberian’…”

Cooke’s Red Lantern finish is bittersweet. He says he never wanted to come in last, but his experience has made him a better sled dog driver. He also thanked his wife Louise for her patience. “Despite everything I’ve said over the past week, I just revealed to her that I’m probably going to sign up next year and she still hasn’t killed me, so what a wife!” smiled Cooke.

Patience helped Lance Mackey cross the finish line. He struggled with frostbitten fingers and a worn-down body.  The race organization awarded Mackey the Challenge of the North award for his perseverance.

“The Challenge of the North award?” The musher was speechless. “I’ve heard of this award… Wow!” he exclaimed.

A few minutes later, Mackey was called back to the podium to accept the Sportsmanship award.  

“All I wanted to do was have fun. I haven’t really had fun for the last several years…”

“I had the time of my life,” Mackey said, as he choked back tears. After the banquet, the life-long musher was still surprised.

“I’m just a buy with some dogs who happened do well in this race and I’m not looking for any special recognition,” he said. “I’m not looking to be different from anybody else and I don’t feel that I am.”

The Dawson City award – four ounces of gold for the first musher to reach the race’s races halfway mark and also finish the race - went to Brent Sass, who split it among his three handlers. The Rookie of the year award went to fourth place finisher Damon Tedford.