A new educational website detailing the rich history and current work of legendary Alaska sled dog racing champion George Attla is now online.
Four years in the making, the website, attlamakingofachampion.com, was created by Fairbanks-based science educator and audio producer Kathy Turco, who worked closely with Attla and utilized source material from more than 50 photographers, journalists, historians, archivists and dog mushers.
The project was supported by a $5,000 Alaska Humanities Forum 2008 general grant.
To visit the website click here.
Its multi-media trove includes gripping black-and-white photographs and television clips from 1970s and 1980s dog racing coverage and sports news interviews with Attla, the Athabascan Indian from Huslia, Alaska, nicknamed “the Huslia Hustler,” who limped to starting lines and powered his dogs along the trail with his signature stiff-legged kick, the result of childhood surgery that permanently fused a knee.
Attla is a 10-time winner of the Open World Championship Sled Dog Race, the world’s premiere sled dog sprint race, which is held over three days in Anchorage every year (snow conditions permitting) as the centerpiece of the annual Fur Redezvous festival. Attla first won the race in 1958.
One dramatic video on the new website shows an utterly exhausted Attla crossing the finish line in record setting time on the final day of the 1975 Open North American in Fairbanks. That year, Attla won all four major sprint dog races in Alaska (the Fury Rondy; the Open North American; the Race of Champions in Kenai/Soldotna; and the Alaska State Championship in Tok). That feat was unprecedented and has yet to be matched.
A 1975 television interview archived on the site has Attla praising the strength and passion of his dogs on the cusp of his record-breaking season.
“I’ve got 32 [dogs] running and I’d say 24 are exceptionally good dogs,” he says.
Off-camera, the interviewer responds: “So you’re very confident about this year?”
“Yeah right,” says Attla, cracking a smile. “I’ve got a lot of spare parts.”
The "George Attla – Making of a Champion" website also contains archived newspaper articles spanning seven decades as well as several recent video interviews with Attla discussing not only his racing career but his present work promoting dog mushing among Alaska Native youth.
"A dog never makes a mistake," says Attla in one interview excerpt. "He is just a dog and he does what he does because he is a dog and thinks like a dog. It is you that makes the mistake because you haven’t trained him to do what you want him to do when you want him to do it. Or you have misjudged what he is able to do, physically or mentally. So if a mistake is made in the team, it is you that has made it, not the dog.”
Photos: Maxine Vehlow