Distance musher Gerry Willomitzer saw his first dog team in Tok, Alaska, at the Burnt Paw gift shop, in 1985. Little did he know that nearly 20 years later, he’d be racing among North America’s top contenders in long-distance mushing.
Gerry was born in Germany in 1969 and grew up in a rural part of Bavaria. After finishing high school, he obtained a diploma in forest management. In 1996, Gerry took one of those rare opportunities life sometimes throws at you and immigrated to Canada, spending his first North American winter at William Kleedehn’s kennel in the Yukon Territory. He handled for Kleedehn’s Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race team from 1998 to 2002 and served a term on the Quest’s board of directors in 1999.
In 2001, Gerry moved to his present home near Lake Laberge, just north of Whitehorse. There he started his own kennel and breeding program with dogs he acquired from Kleedehn and Hans Gatt, later adding lines from Lance Mackey and Mitch Seavey.
Fewer than 30 dog teams worldwide have completed the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest and the 1,000-mile Iditarod back-to-back. Gerry and the Blackjack team joined that club in 2007 when Gerry joined the field of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race for the first time, finishing in the top half of a field crowded with the world’s best distance mushers. He has since completed three more Iditarods, coming in 13th in 2010. He competes in a number of 200- and 300-mile races each season, and for 2015-16 the focus will be the Eukanuba Stage Stop Race in Wyoming, along with shorter regional races while training a new generation of distance-running dogs.
Along the way, Gerry has been recognized with humanitarian and sportsmanship awards and enjoyed wins and top-three finishes in a number of races, including two second-place and two third-place finishes in the Copper Basin 300 — labeled the “toughest 300 miles in Alaska.” He’s also seen his share of hard luck in some races, and as he sees it, that means he’s experienced a well-rounded mushing career. Gerry’s goal is to continue improving on his results year over year while ensuring the safety, health and happiness of the dogs on his team.
During the summer, Gerry works as a log building contractor. His winters are dedicated to mushing. And he’s supported on the trail and off by his two biggest fans: his wife Darcy Olesen and their son Leo.