Sledding Alaska: Maixner is brimming with excitement for what his dog mushing future holds
In 37 years of living, Kelly Maixner has worn a number of hats.
He's been a snowboard instructor, a soldier in the North Dakota National Guard, a bartender, a doughnut maker, a physical therapy assistant for the Phoenix Suns, a state champion boxer and a semi-professional football player for the Bozeman (Mont.) Kodiaks.
But when Maixner, a Beach High School graduate, moved to Anchorage, Alaska, he put on a new hat -- sled-dog racer.
After finishing 31st in the 2013 Iditarod, Maixner has now competed in and finished his third "The Last Great Race" in as many years.
"Finishing it is an amazing thing if you think about it -- it's 1,000 miles -- it's like going across North Dakota three times," Maixner said. "It's like going from Beach to Fargo three times on dogs.
"Weather-wise you just have to be prepared for anything out there and growing up in North Dakota gives me that whole mindset."
Though he was disappointed in placing 31st this year, he said his dogs came down with the flu, so he had to rest longer than what he had planned.
"This time it was a little tough, I had a bunch of sick dogs," Maixner said. "It was a rough ride, but we made it."
The placing was about where Maixner has finished in recent years. His highest finish in the Iditarod was 30th in 2011. He placed 32nd last year.
Maixner's father, Joel, lives in Bismarck and said he isn't worried about his son racing in the Iditarod.
Kelly's extracurricular activity that is cause for worry for Joel is mountain climbing.
"Kelly knows how to take care of himself," Joel said with laugh. "It wasn't a surprise when he said he wanted to start racing in the Iditarod.
He's an adventuresome young man. He's done Ironman, marathons, triathlons and mountain climbing. Mountain climbing scares me more than the Iditarod. He likes the challenge.
"Kelly sets his goals high and he accomplishes his goals. He's a son to be proud of."
Kelly Maixner is a pediatric dentist in Big Lake, Alaska, and has the Mad Stork Kennel. Helping Maixner run the kennel is his handler, Cliffy Ward, and his wife, Margaret Maixner. The kennel started in 2007 with two females and has since grown to more than 60 dogs.
"I'm probably going to sell some dogs to get that number down to around 30," Kelly said. "I want to make it a little easier on myself. All the dogs are 5 (years old) and under. I've bred and raised all the dogs."
Making the journey north
Moving to Alaska, Kelly Maixner wasn't shell-shocked one bit.
In fact, he said living in Anchorage is pretty comparable to being in western North Dakota.
"It can be 40 degrees or it can be blowing 50 miles per hour in our face in 20 below (temperatures)," Maixner said. "A lot of times, it's nicer here than it is back home."
Joel Maixner agreed.
"The average temperature in Anchorage and Bismarck is that Anchorage is a little bit warmer," Joel said. "They have more sunlight during the summer and more darkness during the winter. But other than that, it's not really different. Any place close to the ocean, it doesn't really get bitterly cold."
During the summer months, the dogs continue to work out, but it's much lighter. Kelly Maixner doesn't want to overheat the dogs. He said if it gets over 45 degrees, they can overheat easily.
Though not all the dogs are with him throughout the entire summer, he allows fellow mushers to have his dogs do tours. One of his good friends in the dog-sled world is two-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey.
The two-time champion won the 2013 Iditarod, becoming the oldest musher to win the event at age 53.
"Some of my dogs go with Mitch during the summertime to do dog tours for tourists," Maixner said. "They pull tourists on a little less than a mile course."
Working toward the future
With the summer months coming up, Maixner is already excited about next year's Iditarod. The three-time finisher said the next couple years should be years to finish in the top 10.
"That's the thing now," he said. "I have a good enough team now that I should be able to finish every year no problem. It's just how well we do."
Joel Maixner has no doubt Kelly is on the right path.
"He raised his dogs from pups and he's got a real good breeding stock," Joel said. "The next two years, his dogs will be in their prime. His team next year will be all 4-, 5- and 6-year-old dogs.
"He should have done better this year, but one dog got sick the first day and it just spread through the rest of the dogs. By the time they got to the finish line, the rest of the mushers dogs started getting the flu. Kelly couldn't push them as hard as he wanted to. If you push dogs, they will lose their will to run. This year he knew he just had to bear through it. He should do better next year as long as he doesn't have any bad luck."