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After pulling sled 1,600km across Alaskan wilderness, Irishman crowned winner of one of world’s ‘toughest races’


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In a remarkable display of resilience and endurance, Galway native Gavan Hennigan crossed the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000 on Friday, claiming the title of Men’s Foot Champion.

The race, now in its 18th year, requires contestants to pull a sled 1,000 miles across Alaska, including over the Bering Sea, and has only ever seen 50 athletes complete it before the 30-day cut-off period.

Mr Hennigan is not only the first Irish person to win the race but also the first ever Irish person to compete.

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Following the victory, Mr Hennigan (42) said: “Made it to Nome!! 1,000 miles on foot and took the win too. Absolutely trashed. Thank you all for such amazing support.”

His journey across Alaskan wilderness culminated in the small city of Nome after 24 days, 18 hours and nine minutes of relentless effort, battling against nature’s harshest conditions.

The ITI follows the historic Iditarod Trail from its trail head at Knik Lake near Anchorage to the remote interior village of McGrath, continuing to the Bering Sea before reaching the trail’s conclusion in Nome.

Contestants availed of seven checkpoints with food and minimal lodging as well as three supply drops with food and liquids.

On the final night of the race, Mr ­Hennigan posted on Instagram, writing: “Just got some signal, about 12k out. Horrible last push overnight. Alaska bringing the Irish weather for the ­craic, sleet/rain/wind. Wearing a bin bag like a proper hobo, necked 600mg of caffeine at 1am to fight off the sleepies. Ski pole will be turned into flag pole.”

Mr Hennigan’s arrival in Nome was ­described by organisers as being “straight out of an adventure tale”.

They said: “Soaked from the relentless rain that had accompanied him in the final leg of his journey, only to be greeted by a heavy snowfall that seemed to celebrate his monumental achievement.

“This victory is not just about crossing a physical finish line; it’s a testament to his indomitable spirit and unwavering determination.”​

No stranger to the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska, Mr Hennigan previously won the ITI 350 in 2020, finishing the 350-mile race in six days, 12 hours and 20 minutes.

He also made headlines after completing a solo row across the Atlantic in 2017. He set a new Irish record, crossing from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the West Indies in 49 days, 11 hours, 37 minutes and 21 seconds. He was also crowned the fastest solo rower for the course in its history.

Before that event, Mr Hennigan, who was then 35, labelled himself an “extreme-environment athlete” who was also a deep-sea saturation diver for construction oil rigs.

His return this year to the Alaskan wilderness to tackle the 1,600km challenge was a journey that organisers described as “fraught with obstacles”.

They said Alaska unleashed its full arsenal including Arctic-blast winds, weeks of bone-chilling cold, unpredictable rain and snow showers, and a trail that “challenged every step”.

“Yet he persevered, turning each challenge into a stepping stone towards his ultimate goal.

“As we congratulate Gavan on this monumental achievement, we’re reminded of the power of the human spirit and the endless possibilities that await those who dare to challenge the status quo. His journey through the heart of Alaska’s wilderness is a compelling testament to what lies within each of us – an unyielding drive to overcome the insurmountable.”

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