Chicago Area Native Finishes 5th In Iditarod

FORT YUKON, Alaska (WBBM) — An Evanston native will be back in town later this spring to talk about his adventures racing sled dogs in Alaska.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Jennifer O’Neill reports, Hugh Neff just finished in fifth place in his eighth Iditarod dog sled race, and he’s getting ready for a 300-mile race Monday in Fort Yukon. He has completed nearly two dozen races.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Jennifer O’Neill reports

Neff attributed his tenacity to his upbringing in the Chicago area.

“As far as learning how to be tough, I had my heroes growing up, you know, were (Mike) Ditka and Michael Jordan, and there ain’t two guys tougher than those two, so if I could emulate a bit of their spirits, then I don’t see why I can’t win the Iditarod,” Neff said.

Each May, Neff travels to dozens of schools across the country to share his stories and talk about racing, but he also tries to encourage kids to pursue their dreams and give back to their community.

This year’s theme will be, “Learning to grow by what you see around you.” Dates have not yet been set, but Neff says he will certainly be in the Chicago area.

The goal is to encourage kids to want to learn and to make learning fun. He hopes to communicate a message of taking risks and living your dream, while not being selfish and giving back to others.

Neff says he gives his dogs about a week off after the Iditarod. This time of year, they focus on smaller, training races.

He says he treats his dogs like kings, giving them each a $100 jacket and spending about $20,000 a year on dog food alone. The relationship between an owner and his dogs, he says, can very much affect how they perform in a race.

  • cheryl mcgarrity

    The toughest race around…he is also one of the most humanitarian philosophers on the trail!

  • Susan

    Margery – Not one dog has died in the last two years of the Iditarod! Mushers and Vets are learning how to better care for these dogs every day. The mushers LOVE their dogs like they were their own children. Each dog is examined at every checkpoint along the way. GREAT love and care is given to these magnificent athletes!

  • Margery Glickman

    Susan, the Iditarod reported that there were no deaths the last two years. But no one has said how many dogs died after the race when mushers stopped giving their dogs antacids. No one has said how many dogs died after the race from pneumonia and other causes. Mushers force their dogs to run in the Iditarod. Buser’s dogs had infected paws. Yet he continued to race them. Please go to the home page of the Sled Dog Action Coalition website,, and read the letter from Jane Stevens, a former Iditarod dog handler.

  • Lucy Shelton

    Although no dogs died in this year’s Iditarod, more than half did not finish. Of the 992 dogs who started, 542 did not finish, which is 55%. They are dropped due to injury, illness, exhaustion, or just not wanting to continue. One musher scratched after one of her dogs collapsed while running. Two dogs died in this year’s Yukon Quest.

    Sure, the dogs love to run, but not such a long distance and for 9 to 14 days. They are at a racing pace for a distance that’s longer than between Canada and Mexico. Six dogs died in Iditarod 2009, bringing the total known to over 140 since 1973. The deaths average 3 to 4 a race. My family and I cannot accept one dog dying as a tradeoff for the glory and money the mushers get in a once-a-year, brutal race.

    The distance is too long, and the conditions and terrain too grueling for the dogs. There are laws in at least 38 states against over-driving and over-working animals, which is exactly what the Iditarod and Yukon Quest does.

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Friends of Animals, In Defense of Animals, PETA, and Sled Dog Action Coalition want this race to end. People concerned about animals should boycott this cruel race and contact the sponsors to end their support of it.

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