Late Iditarod Volunteer in Kaltag receives Nayokpuk Award

The dog lot in Kaltag. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media)

The Iditarod is honoring a late longtime race volunteer in Kaltag with the Herbie Nayokpuk Spirit of the Iditarod Award.

Austin Esmailka, Sr., helped bring the Iditarod through Kaltag for decades. His son-in-law, Iditarod veteran Richard Burnham, accepted the award surrounded by his family in the Kaltag community hall Sunday morning.

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“Austin was always the one who would, when I needed it, would come to me and say ‘Richard, are we going to go down to Eagle Island? We need to break trail; the race is coming,’” Burnham said. “He would go down without question. He was involved with it a lot of ways where he was in the background. You didn’t always see him out in the front, but he was always there as the one to make sure the race happened.”

The award is named for the late Shishmaref musher Herbie Nayokpuk and is given to people who have made a major impact on the race.