Janine Seavey graduated from Cary High School in 1976 and, like many kids her age, didn’t know what to do with her life.
She knew what she didn’t want: predictability.
College? She could take it or leave it. A local nine-to-five job? Not ideal either.
“I’ve always liked the idea of an adventure,” Seavey, now 56, recently recalled. “I had been to 49 of the 50 states before I left home.”
Seavey opted to follow her older brother to one of those states, Alaska, a decision that ultimately would lead to a life of Iditarod royalty.
In Alaska, she met and married Mitch Seavey, a Minnesota native who won the famous dog sled race in 2004 and 2013. The couple has four children. On March 18, Dallas Seavey, one of their sons, won his third Iditarod in four years when he crossed the finish line in Nome after sledding more than 950 miles in eight days and 18 hours.
The father and son are record-setters. In 2012, Dallas became the youngest person to ever win the Iditarod. A year later, Mitch became the oldest to win it. This year, they became the first father-son duo to finish one-two in the race, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. Mitch crossed the Iditarod finish line four hours after his son and one hour ahead of the third-place finisher.
Mitch and Janine have four grandchildren and live on 155 acres in Sterling, Alaska, with their 150 dogs. They run their own business, IdidaRide Sled Dog Tours, which takes tourists in and around nearby Seward, Alaska.
Their lives have garnered attention from national media, including The New Yorker, and Dallas has been featured in National Geographic Channel’s “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” a show that tests participants’ strength and endurance through a series of trials in the wilderness.
At this point, Janine Seavey is used to it all. She said she doesn’t even worry when Mitch and Dallas are trekking through blizzards in minus-40 degree temperatures. Iditarod mushers aren’t allowed to contact their families during the race unless it’s an emergency.
Like Mitch, “Dallas is very tough, not only physically, but mentally,” she said.
Still, her life now is a far cry from her childhood on Denise Drive in Raleigh and later on Richard Drive in Cary, where her parents, Victor and Maryetta Jones, have lived for years.
But her passion to explore isn’t unexpected considering the family went on road trips across North America almost every year when Janine and her three brothers were children.
Victor Jones, a former engineer in the Department of Food Science at N.C. State University, signed up to attend conferences across the country each year.
“Then he would turn a week-long meeting into a month-long adventure,” said Doug Jones, Janine’s 54-year-old brother who lives in Virginia.
They went to Alaska in the late 1960s after Victor attended a conference in Saskatchewan, Canada.
“We put 10,000 miles on the car going from North Carolina through Canada,” Doug said. “We have a lot of fond memories.”
Heading to Alaska
When Seavey suggested a move to Alaska, her parents encouraged it.
Their oldest son, Mike, already was there. After graduating from Cary High School in 1975, he helped extended family members move from Florida to Alaska and decided to stay to get into real estate. By 1976, Anchorage was thriving as authorities were preparing to build a major gas pipeline across Alaska.
“(Mike) was making more money than I was as a faculty member at N.C. State,” Victor Jones said with a laugh.
Janine Seavey took small jobs while living with Mike and made friends by attending events at the local Bible college in Anchorage.
Although she enjoyed living there, Janine initially struggled to adjust to the lifestyle. In the summers, the sun sets later in Alaska than it does in most other places in the United States.
“She couldn’t ever get to sleep, so she had to sleep in her closet,” her father said.
These days, Seavey and her husband can live almost entirely off their land, which is about 136 miles and two hours south of Anchorage. They chop wood to heat their house. Seavey gardens. She prepares moose and caribou that Mitch has hunted and killed.
“One of her main strengths is that she adapts well to almost any environment,” said Mike Jones, who lives near his brother in Virginia.
The Iditarod is a frigid, grueling race that takes months to train for and recover from. For most, it usually takes between eight and 12 days to finish.
Mushers and dogs often sustain injuries. Mushers often hallucinate while on the trail, and dogs sometimes die. But winning brings glory. This year, Dallas became one of seven people to win the race at least three times and earned a record payout of $70,000.
Seavey helps keep the dogs, which need to be cleaned daily and fed a salmon-heavy 10,000-calorie diet each day during training to build muscle and stamina. Local sponsors of Mitch and Dallas provide much of the salmon the family needs.
“They’re amazingly fit and happy,” she said of the dogs. “They look like marathon runners. They’re not stocky, big huskies like people think they would be.”
Given Janine’s petite stature and Southern mannerisms, Mike said strangers would be surprised by the type of work Seavey does on a daily basis.
“She doesn’t fit the description of a typical Alaskan woman,” he said. “To look at her, some might’ve expected her to marry a doctor in, say, Raleigh.”
The Seaveys haven’t always lived in Alaska. They lived in Virginia from 1986 to 1992 to help Doug and Mike start a land development company. The company was successful, but Mitch Seavey longed to move back to Alaska.
“Her husband, Mitch, he likes land development and is good at it,” Doug Jones said. “But he was a fish out of water. You can’t take Alaska out of an Alaskan boy.”
Though Janine Seavey describes their life as wholesome, she acknowledges it hasn’t been easy. She homeschooled each of their four children while also putting them to work. One summer, work was so demanding that the family only had one Saturday to relax.
“In some ways I feel like I’ve stepped back in time about 120 or 130 years,” she said. “(The children) didn’t sit at a desk six hours a day. They learned by doing things.”
She credits their real-world educational experiences for their success. The Seaveys’ 32-year-old son, Danny, manages IdidaRide. Their 30-year-old son, Tyrell, is a commercial fisherman. Dallas, 28, races dogs, stars on television and gives motivational speeches for a living. The couple’s youngest son, 18-year-old Conway, is pursuing a musical career.
Growing up in Cary
Janine Seavey’s childhood was more traditional. She attended public school and lived in neighborhoods where she could walk to her friends’ homes.
But Seavey, then Janine Jones, stood out in her own ways. In high school, she wrote and produced a play at White Plains Methodist Church in Cary and later became one of the first girls on Cary High’s cross country team.
“Back then, that was kind of different for a girl to do,” Victor Jones said.
Seavey visits her parents about once a year and says Cary no longer resembles the town she used to call home. Even if it did, she wouldn’t miss it.
By living in different parts of Virginia for six years, “I got (suburban life) out of my system and was so happy to come back and raise our kids here,” she said.
An office park now stands where Seavey and her brothers used to play in the woods off Denise Drive. In the winter, her parents can see SAS Institute buildings from the living room of their house on Richard Drive.
“I cannot see another house from our home,” Janine Seavey said in a phone interview from her house in Sterling. “Sometimes I look out, and a bear is walking under our kitchen window.”
The family’s proximity to nature is therapeutic, she said.
“It’s a reminder that you are very small in comparison to a big picture,” she added. “I can’t imagine our life being any better than this.”