Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Iditarod, a Great Alaska Tradition

Monday, March 7th, 2011
Iditarod, a Great Alaska Tradition

DeeDee Jonrowe, one of the more well-known dog mushers in Alaska, not only because she has had many successful runs but is a cancer survivor, said during this weekend’s Iditarod start that the Iditarod is a celebration of Alaskan culture.  Dog mushing is certainly not unique to Alaska, nor is professional dog mushing racing, but there is something special about the Iditarod and its place in the Alaskan worldview.

Before living in Alaska, I spent nine years in Minnesota, where I attended college and graduate school.  In between the two schools, I spent a couple of years up north working as a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  It was there that I began to learn about dog mushing because of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.  But I never made it down to Duluth (I was living in Grand Marais) to see any part of the race.  I never got the sense that it was the sort of thing that people traveled long distances to see, that it had more of a regional impact.

But the Iditarod is something else entirely.  People come from all over the world to Anchorage just to see the ceremonial start, and stay to see the official start in Willow the next day.  Some even stay long enough to go to Nome – NOME – to see the first finishers come in to town.

There are so many things that make Iditarod not only a great Alaskan tradition, but one of the many things that makes Anchorage a special place to live.  The entire downtown atmosphere during the day of the ceremonial start (always the first Saturday in March) is an extremely festive atmosphere, mixed with the excitement of being in the midst of some of the biggest stars in the wild sport of dog mushing.  Prior to the official start, members of the public are free to interact with the mushers and their dogs, ask questions, pose for pictures, and simply be part of the excitement of getting ready for heading out on the trail.  Once the first team leaves the starting mark, members of the public can still line the streets, holding the Anchorage Daily News Iditarod guide that identifies each musher, allowing people to cheer on each musher by name.

Given the very public nature of the Iditarod, there are always other things going on that take advantage of the publicity.  Usually, someone from the Alaska congressional delegation and/or the governor are there to perform some official function.  In 2008, Governor Sarah Palin was on hand to sign into law a bill that commemorates the first Saturday of March as Susan Butcher Day, named after a four-time winning musher who died of cancer in 2006.  There is always someone waving a protest sign, promoting some issue of local concern.  And frequently some corporation is passing out swag to promote product recognition, like when Target first came to Alaska and had a crew there in force.

But the ceremonial start of the Iditarod is just one part of the festive atmosphere in Anchorage.  The dog teams mush down through town, along the Chester Creek trail, through Far North Bicentennial Park, and over to the Campbell Creek airstrip on BLM land in the heart of the city.  All along the way, fans line up to look for their favorite mushers and to cheer teams as they tour through town.  I can think of no other major sporting event where people of the public have such access to the event participants.  It is an openness and accessibility that is rather fitting for Alaska, and Anchorage, where the land is open and people are free to pursue what they enjoy doing in the outdoors.

To follow the progress of this year’s Iditarod, visit the official Iditarod website.

To Seward for some Pink Cheeks

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
To Seward for some Pink Cheeks

Michelle and I went down to Seward on Friday so she could participate in the Pink Cheeks Triathlon on Saturday.  I knew that we were not going to be spending much time in town, so I decided to focus my efforts on photographing the harbor.  After a delicious dinner at Ray’s  of cajun blacked halibut cheeks, Michelle retired to the room and I spent a about an hour and a half after nightfall photographing the boats in the harbor.  The next morning, I got up right around sunrise at 6:00 to go back out and explore the harbor with the morning light.  Due to the steep ridges and peaks of Resurrection Bay, the sun never actually hit the harbor until I was finishing for the morning.  After breakfast, Michelle and I went for a walk on the docks, photographing boats, a raven, a couple of dogs that were snarling at me, and, when Michelle pointed it out, a Stellar sea lion cow meandering among the boat docks in the harbor.

 Then, we headed over to Seward High School, the focal point of the Pink Cheeks Triathlon.  Pink Cheeks is what is referred to as a “sprint” triathlon, in that the swimming is 900 yards, the running is three miles and the biking is only six miles.  It is also the first of many triathlons for the year in Southcentral Alaska.  We hooked up with Michelle’s sister, Linda, and her kids, Tyler and Maddie.  Tyler and Michelle were part of a three-person team, while Linda was doing the triathlon solo.   For those who were swimming as part of a team, the swimming came before the run.  In order to accommodate all the swimmers, locals were required to swim on Friday.  Following the swim, there was a mass start for all runners, followed by the bike portion.  Then, for many of the people doing the triathlon solo, the swimming came at the end. 

Wild Woes

Thursday, May 28th, 2009
Wild Woes

In what is almost an echo of their inaugural season, the Alaska Wild are having a rough year.  At this time in their opening season, the Wild were winless and on their third coach.  Similarly, the Wild are winless this season and have had countless people playing in the quarterback position.  It’s been even more difficult given the success of Anchorage’s other professional sports team, the Alaska Aces, who are currently playing in the Kelly Cup championships.  People are less interested in the Wild, who are losing, when the Aces are having a good year.

But, as a photographer, it is easy to forget such things.  When I look back at the thousand or so images I capture in a game, I am not seeing the cold statistics of a 0-8 season, I see tailgating, defensive tackles swarming an opposing running back, spectacular runs and catches, and fans having a blast.  While photos may speak a thousand words, they often tell a different story than what the numbers do.

That is quite simply because arena football is about much more than just a winning season.  When I lived in the Twin Cities, I loved to go see the St. Paul Saints games much more than Minnesota Twins games.  The Saints played outdoors, they engaged the fans in games and activities, and the stadium was much more intimate.  Even though the Sullivan Arena is larger than most IFL venues, it still provides an opportunity for fans to be close to the action – especially if you are in the Sideline Club.  The team at Alaska Professional Sports does a great job in lining up entertainment, from halftime singers and the Wild Fire dance team, to silly boxing matches and relay races, eating contests, and the Ball Babes throwing out freebies during the game.

Speaking to many of the loyal fans, I get the impression that they go to have fun, and that’s what keeps them coming back.  They gather early to tailgate out in the parking lot, cheer on the team and taunt the visiting team during the game, and stick around after to talk to players and get their autographs.  I know that the kids have a blast, too, with little girls with play pom-poms dancing along with the Wild Fire or little boys gathering in the end zone in the hopes of catching an errant ball.    Quite simply, even in a losing season, the Alaska Wild still provide the photographer lots of great material to capture, and the fans a lot of fun for what is a relatively inexpensive four hours of entertainment.

Here are some highlights from the Wild’s game against the Billings Outlaws, who, upon coming into town, were leading the IFL with a record of 8-1.  It was the worst loss of the season for the Wild, with a final score of 73-18.  I managed to capture all three of the Wild’s touchdowns.  To purchase photos from this game and others, go to my Printroom Alaska Wild site.

I have created a flash video highlighting the previous home games of the season, as well as the exhibition game at the Wasilla Sports Complex (aka “Sarah’s Sports Complex”) against the Fairbanks Grizzlies.  Enjoy!

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Wild Boys

Friday, May 22nd, 2009
Wild Boys

I know, the title brings a certain Duran Duran song to mind, but that is not the intention.  About three years ago, Alaska Professional Sports was marketing and developing the introduction of professional football to Alaska.  It had found a spot for its team first with the Arena Football 2 (AF2) league, then with what was then called the Intense Football League (now Indoor Football League).  There was a build-up to what the name of this new team would be, including a public competition for naming the team.

At around the same time, Anchorage was looking for a new identity.  For the longest time, the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) had used the slogan “Wild About Anchorage” to promote the city.  Featuring Seymour the bull moose, the purpose of the slogan was to celebrate the wild and natural aspects of the town as well as its cultural jewels.  Still wanting to keep Seymour on board, the ACVB paid lots of money for a firm to come up with the new slogan, and new splashy graphics, “Big Wild Life.”

Then, Alaska Professional Sports came out with the name for its new team, right around the same time – the Alaska Wild.  Now, I lived in Minnesota when it acquired a new NHL franchise (the original team, the North Stars, were bought and moved to Texas).  As that team was called the Minnesota Wild, I felt Alaska Wild too familiar.

After having been with the team now for three seasons as the team photographer, I can safely say that the name as definitely grown on me.  It seemed appropriate to name the team with both “Alaska” and “Wild.”  First, it was the only IFL team in Alaska at the time (there is now the Fairbanks Grizzlies, too).  Second, there is really no single word that represents the whole of Alaska better than “Wild.”  It has been a real treat over three seasons to be the team photographer.  It’s always a pleasure to photograph the games, but working with the guys for individual and group shots can be a blast as well.

Take for instance my photo session with them just recently to get some make up head shots and an outdoor team shot.  After we were done with head shots at the AT&T Sports Complex, several guys jumped at the suggestion that they could do some “buddy” shots.  When it came time for the team shot out at Potter Marsh, I made it clear I did not want to photograph a typical team shot.  I want it to be about attitude and personality.  Needless to say, the guys have plenty of both.  For this week’s home game at the Sullivan, we will do a typical team shot on the field.  But for this Friday evening out in the chilly Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, an appropriate location for a team called the “Wild,” the boys let it loose.

Learn more about the Alaska Wild or see game, team and cheerleader photos on my Printroom site.

March in review

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009
March in review

It has been a whirlwind month.  While I have been actively shooting, I simply have not had the time to blog as well as photograph and spend time with Michelle.  Sorry, but spending time with her before I take off for a month just took a higher priority.  To make up for it, I thought I would post some highlights of what I did photographically in March.  For each Thursday evening, I was over at Rumrunner‘s, photographing ladies who were contending to be “Bud Girls.”  In mid-month, I, along with several other photographers, was busy photographing the ASAA Alaska State Championship Basketball Tournament at the Sullivan Arena.  Nothing but basketball for six days, twelve hours a day or more.  Then, on some Saturdays, I was capturing some sports action over at the AT&T Sports Complex on Old Seward Highway and O’Malley, photographing action for the Alaska Indoor Flag Football League (AIFFL), an adult league that starts in January each year and goes to mid-March.  Then, there were two Alaska Wild games, an exhibition game at the Wasilla Sports Complex (what I also call Sarah’s Sports Complex) and the season opener at the Sullivan Arena against the Fairbanks Grizzlies.  I also did head shots for the Alaska Wild staff, team and dance team, the “Wildfire,” as well as the girls’ group photo.

So, lots of sports and related glamour photos, not much time for nature … except that one Saturday morning after some fresh snowfall when I looked out the kitchen window to the front yard and saw some vole tracks.  Had to get that.  I will have plenty of time next month, though, as I will be serving as the Artist-in-Residence for Badlands National Park from April 7 to May 8.  Keep an eye on my blog for regular updates, where I will discuss the park, my creative process, and some new gear I am trying out.

Sun teasing

Friday, February 27th, 2009
Sun teasing

So, the day started out better for the light.  The sun broke from its cloudy prison around late morning and gave some nice light for the girls 7.5K freestyle race and the beginning of the boys 10K freestyle.  Unfortunately, it got fairly diffuse again by later in the afternoon.  It got fairly thick by the time the evening came along, again denying me the opportunity to go out and photograph the aurora.  And tonight had the best forecast for a display, although not much of one with a forecast of a 2. 

The improved lighting conditions gave me an opportunity to work with the beautiful birch and aspen groves in the ski area.  Since I was not working with a tripod on the ski trails, I had to get creative in bracing myself and stabilizing the camera so I could get some decent depth of field looking into the trees. 

Snowy first day

Thursday, February 26th, 2009
Snowy first day

Nordic skiers are a special breed of people.  The first thing you notice about them, whether they are the athletes or the adult skiers who volunteer to help run the tournament, is that they are all incredibly fit and trim.  Certain types of athletes have bulk in certain areas, like swimmers with their thighs.  Not Nordic skiers.  They are skinny in all parts, and look like they could ski forever, that is, until you see them hurling as they finish a 10K race.  

Photographing Nordic skiing is a great deal like photographing cross country running.  The course is laid out in a way where you can photograph in one area, then cut over and catch the back side of a loop as the same group comes through again.  It allows you to have diversity in your background scenery and gives you a chance to cover all the atheletes at least once.  The downside of this strategy is that you often have a bit of down time, waiting around for the group to come back toward your part of the loop again.  But, it also allows you to look around and see what else the scenery has to offer.   Then there are the fans who cheer their school athletes on.   There is no “Spirit Award” for this event, but if there were, I think it would have to go to the Palmer Moose. 

Today was a snowy day.  Most adults here who have been around state Nordic ski championships said this was the first time they could recall it snowing during a state championship.  Others, offering  a similar sentiment, noted that it was the first time in a long time they could recall it being above zero in Fairbanks during a skiing event.  It made for some interesting photos, but all but guaranteed that I would not be photographing the aurora tonight.  We will see about tomorrow.

ESPN Publication

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

I had one of my photos from the Alaska state high school football championships published on Here is the link.

Remote rafting photography

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008
Remote rafting photography

When I first learned of this assignment, to photograph several groups of rafters in a remote location, I imagined several possibilities.  I imagined riding with some of the groups in the raft with a waterproof camera to capture some up-close action, then stationing myself somewhere along the line to photograph groups from the shore.  When I learned that the videographer from Tony Robbins would be up in a helicopter covering the groups, I was determined to find space on that helo.  Strapped in with a door open for the best access, I switched between a camera with a 70-200mm lens and one with a 120-300mm lens for a nice range of scenic and close up action.

Taking a break

Monday, August 25th, 2008
Taking a break

After an intensive morning session, several of the Platinum Partners took advantage of some free time to ride the tram up to the chalet and go paragliding.  I could not decide if it was better to be flying off the mountain in a paraglider or to be standing there photographing them with the wonderful backdrop of the Turnagain Arm.  The strong overcast lighting on the mountain limited some of the angles for effective photography, making shots looking up to the paragliders as they took off less effective.