Meeting up face to face with Susan Lucci along the Fourth Avenue start of this year's Iditarod Sleddog Race was just as exciting as watching the mushers gear up for the start. Although clearly a star, she put on no prima donna airs as she ventured along the starting area in lieu of staying warm inside the V.I.P. motor home. The three things that struck me the most were first, her genuine excitement to be here in Anchorage, followed by the sparkle in her eyes...just like a child's at Christmas; and then the warmth of her response to onlookers who were able to figure out that the "tiny woman" strolling along the route was THE Susan Lucci. And tiny she is! She can't weigh 100lbs fully dressed!
When I caught up with her, she was just as gracious as she could be. We spent several minutes chatting about her visit to Alaska. She related that she had attended the Musher's Banquet, gone out on a test "run" with one of the mushers the day before and would be heading down to Girdwood to go skiing at Mt. Alyeska on Sunday. I asked her what kind of convincing it took to get her to agree to come up here and her reply was an enthusiastic, "Are you kidding, all they had to do was ask me once", followed with a delightful laughter. There was a bit of regret when she told me that she was going to have to head back to New York early Monday morning.
I think she was just a little surprised by how much real fun she was having. That is an understandable reaction; most people don't think of a winter visit to Alaska as "fun." And I pondered how easy was it for her to be able to have just pure fun with her status and the crowds she generates. But fun is just what she was having! I watched her stroll along for about an hour before it was time to get her geared up and settled in the sled basket. She was going to be the "Iditarider" going out with musher #51, Rick Mackey. For those of you not familiar with the race, Rick Mackey is a veteran musher who is one of only two mushers who have won both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest races.
Before she "geared up" she visited with race officials, mushers, onlookers and even the dogs in harness. I got a delightful photo of her and her husband, Helmut Huber. He was the "Iditarider" for musher #42, Frank Teasley. They both commented on how excited they were to be a part of the Iditarod and were delightful about posing for pictures from all who asked. When it was time for her husband to take his place in the sled basket, Ms. Lucci went over and made sure he was in and snug. With a kiss goodbye and the final count from the race officials, he was off! Ms. Lucci was clearly tickled because she was jumping up and down and clapping as the dogs raced down the starting chute!
Then with just minutes to go, she returned to her position with Rick Mackey's team. She went along and gave pats and words of encouragement to all the dogs, posed for more photos and then she "geared up" with another parka, goggles, gloves and a face protector, before it was time to take her place in the front sled. Rick Mackey came and made sure all was well for her and that she was comfortable. Then it was the final 30 second countdown... and at 11:50 am they were off! The crowd roared with excited well wishes and applause as they raced down the starting chute and headed down the trail.
My encounter with Ms. Lucci was a smile-making adventure. She was just as sweet as could be and I hope she enjoys the goodies I left for her at her hotel. I also hope she takes us up on the invitation to come visit us again! Maybe in the summer next time...