SPX alum competes in Iditarod sled dog race

Photo courtesy of @keepcalmmushsean
2010 St. Pius X graduate Sean Underwood competed in his first Iditarod race in March. At one of the final checkpoints, though, he was scratched and unable to finish when search and rescue teams were flown in to rescue Underwood and two other competitors from dangerous weather conditions.

Ellie Taube, Editor-in-Chief

St. Pius X alum Sean Underwood competed in the 2020 Iditarod race last month, only the second Atlantan to participate in the prestigious sled dog race. 

Underwood graduated from St. Pius in 2010 and attended Georgia Southern University. He then moved to Alaska to live with his aunt and uncle in 2015. After spending two summers commercial fishing for sockeye salmon on Kodiak Island, Underwood joined four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King at the Husky Homestead in Denali National Park, where he worked as a winter handler, summer guide, and driver.

Underwood participated in a number of qualifying dog sled races, such as the Tustumena 200, the Copper Basin 300, and the Yukon Quest 300, but he wasn’t planning on competing in the Iditarod until 2021. When King had to undergo emergency surgery just days before the race, however, Underwood was pulled in at the last minute. 

“An insane turn of events has brought me to the race of my lifetime,” he stated March 3 on Instagram (@keepcalmandmushsean). “Hey mom, it’s no joke…I’m running the Iditarod!”

Four days later, Underwood and his team of 14 dogs were off. 

The Iditarod is an annual sled dog race in Alaska covering 975 miles from Anchorage to Nome. This year’s event ran from March 7-March 23 and featured 57 participants, known as mushers. The top 20 finishers received prize money as well as the glory of completing “the last great race on Earth.”

Thomas Waerner from Norway finished first, completing the race in 9 days, 10 hours, and 37 minutes. The first-time winner took home more than $51,000 in prize money.

Underwood was one of 23 participants who didn’t complete the race. According to an update on his Instagram account, he and two other mushers were scratched on March 20 after encountering overflowing water on the trail near Safety, which is the last checkpoint before Nome. The three teams were forced to activate their emergency beacons that morning as conditions worsened. Alaska State Troopers, Nome Search and Rescue, and the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center were able rescue everyone safely by helicopter.

Despite the disappointing ending to his first Iditarod, Underwood posted on Instagram that he was grateful for the experience and that it gave him “drive for the future” and “hopefully many more runs to Nome.” 

Visit Underwood’s Instagram account to see highlights  from the 2020 Iditarod and keep up with his journey to compete again in next year’s race. You can also read more about him on his personal website, mushsean.com, or on the official Iditarod website.