When 55-year-old Sonny King (above) mushes off the Iditarod start
line in Anchorage on March 2, he'll be the only full-time
veterinarian among the 70 or so sled drivers--and the only racer
from Spartanburg, S.C. This is King's sixth Iditarod (he was a
race vet from 1993 to '96 before becoming a competitor), and last
year he came in ninth out of 68 mushers.
SI: Tell us about the racing you did growing up on a farm in
King: We always had dogs--collies, Labs, black dogs with long
hair. I'd tie them to my little red wagon and have 'em pull me
SI: How'd you end up in the Iditarod?
King: In the 1970s a guy whose dogs I treated in Spartanburg gave
me an Alaskan malamute as a gift. That was the first contact I
had with an Arctic breed. The next thing you know, you're reading
books about Arctic dogs. Then you're reading about the Iditarod.
Then, before you know it, you're dodging moose holes on the
SI: Isn't it too hot for your team of huskies to train in
King: Yes. They live on a buffalo ranch in Alberta, and [musher]
Ross Adam takes care of them for me.
SI: Now that you're a competitive musher, what do you do if
you're in the race and an opponent asks you to stop and help a
King: I stop. I'm a veterinarian first, a racer second. It's
tough for those dogs. They get shoulder sprains and leg sprains,
and they get chronic diarrhea like marathon runners. I love dogs.
SI: How do you respond to animal activists who claim this sport
represents cruelty to animals?
King: I haven't seen anything but care and compassion from
mushers. We do this because we love dogs. Someone who has a
Great Dane and lives in an apartment, that's cruel.
SI: How is it that your home is on a road called Iditarod Trail?
King: Well, I'm the only one down here who does this, so the
county named the street in my honor.
SI: What do the neighbors say?
King: It used to be I'd talk about racing, and folks would say,
"All right, NASCAR!" Now they come up to me and want to know what
it was like to sleep in a tent when it's minus-40 degrees.
SI: Snow Dogs, Cuba Gooding, what comes to mind?
King: I'd be great in that role, but Hollywood would have had a
hard time with my Southern accent.
COLOR PHOTO: JEFF SCHULTZ/ALASKASTOCK.COM