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Training to win: Maixner, a Beach High School graduate, is set to compete in his 4th straight Iditarod

Courtesy Photo In this undated photo, Kelly Maixner of Big Lake, Alaska, slaps hands with spectators during the 2013 Iditarod. Maixner was a Beach High School graduate is set to compete in his fourth Iditarod.

When Kelly Maixner opened his dental practice in Wasilla, Alaska, this year, he wanted to set his own hours.

Maixner wanted to work his own schedule so he could devote as much time as he possibly could to training his sled dogs for their biggest race of the season — the Iditarod.

“It’s very exciting, especially seeing the potential of my dog team this year,” said Maixner, a Beach High School graduate. “Doing big training runs and see how they are reacting to it. With them reacting really well to it, makes me really excited for the race.”

Maixner, who lives in Big Lake, Alaska, is preparing to compete in his fourth consecutive Iditarod, the Alaskan tradition and “Last Great Race on Earth,” which begins March 1 in Anchorage and ends in Nome.

Though Maixner hasn’t placed in the top 10 in his first three years, he said if everything goes in his favor, he believes there’s a chance he could finish first. His finishes so far are 31st in 2013, 32nd in 2012 and 30th in 2011.

“I like my chances,” he said. “We have the potential to be up there. I’ve learned from years past that there are a lot of things that can go wrong out there. I hate to say, ‘I’m going to be there.’ We have the dogs to be there and a plan to be there.

“There is definitely a luck factor. Skill has a lot to do with it also. You also have to have everything go your way. There are a lot of competitive dog teams out there.”

Maixner felt he had a chance to place in the top 10 last year, but his chances were hampered by an illness spread from dog to dog during six of the 10 days they raced.

To hopefully avoid the illness bug this year, Maixner exposed his dogs to the influenza a couple weeks before the race.

“This year, I hope I already got that out of my system,” he said. “My friend’s dogs were sick, so I made sure I kept my dogs around his and they got sick. Hopefully, they got the flu bug. Just like us, they have flu bugs and we’ll see if I got rid of that this year already.”

Maixner has learned throughout the past three years what to do in preparation for the race, but he said the biggest learning obstacle has been how hard he can train the dogs.

The sled dogs and Maixner completed 600 miles in a week. The North Dakota native said the dogs didn’t look one bit tired, adding they’re the best group he’s ever had.

“As far as training, it’s gotten easier to know how to train. But it’s gotten harder in the fact that I know I can train harder than I have in the past,” he said. “In the past, maybe I put 2,000 miles on my dogs before the race. This year I probably have 3,500. As far as time that goes into it, I have a lot more time into this year than I ever had in the past.

“When we completed the 600 miles, I came home and the dogs didn’t look like they had been run at all.”

Over the past year, Maixner has juggled a job, training sled dogs, a marriage and raising two children — a 6-month-old boy and a 2-year-old girl.

Maixner said nothing would be possible without the support of his wife, Margaret.

“My wife has worked equally as hard as I have this year,” he said. “We’ve pretty much put everything into the race. We’re all in this year. She’s so supportive of it. She puts a lot of effort in. She’s does all the background work that she doesn’t get credit for. I couldn’t be out there training as much as I am without her doing everything else.”

Not only did Maixner figure out new training methods, but he received some for highly reputable source — 2013 Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey of Willow, Ala.

Maixner also shares information with Jake Berkowitz of Big Lake. Berkowitz, who is Maixner’s neighbor, finished the 2013 Iditarod in eighth place.

“Dallas has helped me out a lot, especially with just the little things to do,” Maixner said. “If I have a question about something, I’ll call Dallas. He’s won the race. He knows what he’s talking about.”