2023 Beargrease Wrap

GRAND PORTAGE, Minn. – “It’s a great weekend, it’s a lot of fun. You know mushers and handlers; you don’t get much sleep out there, but you enjoy it and this weekend it was cold, but it was great. You get to see lots of stars, and everyone enjoys that at some point,” Handler, Erin Aili says.

300 miles, the longest sled dog marathon in the lower 48 states, the 2023 John Beargrease marathon kicked off on Sunday in Duluth and wrapped up in Grand Portage on Tuesday. Long days and even longer nights, 17 mushers set out to become the champ but only one got it done. And that is Keith Aili.

Before the finish, Aili would go neck and neck with Ryan Anderson who won the race last year. Anderson would finish in 2nd, eight minutes behind Aili, clocking out at 53 hours and six minutes. Taking 3rd was Sarah Keefer at 53 hours 41 minutes.

After his win, Aili mentioned the challenges of this year’s race.

“I’ve raced dogs for probably over three decades in this thing. Normally I have an adult trained dog team and I go to a race expecting to win. This one, it was a different approach because it’s all a young dog team that hadn’t raced. I’ll be honest, it was hard for somebody like me who’s won so many races in his life to approach it that different and stand on the drap put and race differently that way. So, I’m not saying it was the easiest thing in the world, it was hard, but it did pay off,” 2023 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon Champion, Keith Aili says.

The sled dog marathon is a family affair as Aili’s wife who helps handle the dogs was there at the finish line.

“We definitely put a lot of time, effort, and energy into the dogs. It’s a year-round thing, it’s not like any other sport where you put your equipment away when you’re done with your season. Your dogs are your buddies and you’re with them all year long,” Erin Aili says.

Aili has been racing since he was 13 and this was his first Beargrease win since 2006. He says he’d rank it as one of the top wins he’s accomplished.

“This one’s going to rank up there with probably the top three or four of my life because it was such a new experience; a different approach than what I’m used to my whole life since I was 13 years old racing. So, this one was pretty special,” Keith Aili says.

Aili is now qualified for the famed Iditarod race in Alaska on March 4th.

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