7 Surprising Lessons About Business (and Life) You Can Learn From a Champion Sled Dog Team…

In 2012 Dallas Seavey, at the age of 25 became the youngest person in history to win the grueling 1,049+ Mile Iditarod sled-dog race from Anchorage to Nome Alaska.

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Dallas Seavey: 2 Time Iditarod Champion

Early last Tuesday Morning, my family stayed up all night on the edge of our seats to follow his progress as he did it again in an EPIC come from behind upset! Becoming the 2014 Iditarod champ and SMASHING the previous record with a time of 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes, 19 seconds!

(His dad Mitch Seavey won last year at the age of 53 becoming the OLDEST person to ever win the race!)

For those not familiar with the Iditarod, it’s known as “The Last Great Race on Earth” and is widely recognized as the most grueling and difficult, long distance endurance race of any kind. Competitors like Dallas are typically subjected to 9-15 days of sleep deprivation, whiteout blizzards, brutal cold and gale force winds (with wind-chills as low as -100F!)

Dallas Seavey, Marty Raney, Matt Raney, Erica Graham

Dallas Seavey, Marty Raney, Matt Raney, Erica Graham

I first met Dallas last Summer when my daughter and I attended the Alaska State Fair as guests of family friend Marty Raney, one of the stars of National Geographic Channels hit TV show “Ultimate Survival Alaska“.

Dallas and Marty have participated in both seasons of the hit TV show, surviving and competing in over 23 expeditions all over the State of Alaska.

While hanging out with Marty and the cast in the Nat Geo booth at the fair, I got to spend a fair amount of time talking with Dallas about his life and adventures.

In listening to him describe the methodical, scientific, yet full-throttle approach he takes to training for and winning sled-dog races, I recognized a kindred-spirit.

This guy was a true Champion! He possessed the exact same traits, habits and mindsets I’d observed in countless other top performers, champions, entrepreneurs, and self-made millionaires I work and associate with on a daily basis.

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Because I’m a voracious reader, and continually study the biographies of world-class leaders and peak-performers in a wide variety of disciplines, I was glad to see he had written a book about his journey to win his first Iditarod. (Born To Mush)

He signed a copy for my daughter, and for the next couple weeks, we read Dallas’s book together as her bed-time story.

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But I was so impressed by the wisdom he shared, and the glimpses the book gave into the mindset of a true champion, I re-read the book myself, carefully highlighting key passages and taking notes.

(I highly recommend the book to ANYONE who wants to study the inner workings of a world-class, winning mindset! At only 160 pages it’s a quick, but powerful read.)

In speaking with and spending time with Dallas, as well as reading his book, following his performances on Ultimate Survival Alaska, and his latest Iditarod win, I’ve identified several key lessons anyone can learn from this amazing young champion!

1. Being a Champion is All About Mindset:
Those who win in life, business or the Iditarod trail have one big thing in common. They THINK different than those who lose or quit.

I’ve found that in nearly every area of achievement the “2% Rule” holds true.

The “2% Rule” states that, “In any competitive endeavor the top 2% achieve more success than the bottom 98% combined.”

The difference is not in physical skill, genetics, talent or ability. The difference between the 2% and the 98% is found in their MINDSET.

  • Champions see opportunities, where the other 98% see risks.
  • Champions train, while the other 98% sleep.
  • Champions read and study, while the other 98% watch TV and play video games.
  • Champions seek out and associate with other champions, while the other 98% hang out with those who whine and complain.
  • Champions PROACTIVELY protect their mindset and attitude, while the other 98% REACTIVELY allow the media and their negative emotions to dictate their attitudes.

Dallas Seavey is no exception. Already a champion wrestler, on track to go to the Olympics, Dallas suffered a carrer ending injury.

He applied the world-class thought processes, habits and competitive spirit that made him such a successful wrestler to winning the Iditarod.

2. Champions Don’t Just Have The Will to WIN, They Have The WILL to Train and Prepare:

Everybody who decides to compete has the “will to win”. If you ask anyone in the 98% if they WANT to have greater success in life, they will tell you “Yes”.

But only Champions have the will to put in the countless, painful, thankless hours of training and preparation that it takes to perform at a world-class level.

For “2%ers” like Dallas, there really isn’t an “off-season”. Even though the Iditarod is only run once per year, Dallas spends the rest of the year training and testing his dogs (and himself) to make sure they are at peak condition for the race.

Often spending more nights outdoors on the trail during training runs than he does in his own bed at home, he trains his team in the most extreem conditions he imagines they could possibly encounter while running the Iditarod.

(And as you’ll see in a moment, this “extreme conditions” training paid off big time for him in his win this year!)

3. Champions Are Willing to WORK Harder Than Anyone Else They Might be Competing Against:

A common motto thrown around in business circles these days is, “Work Smarter, Not Harder!”

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that phase is responsible for a great deal of failures in recent years.

While working “smart” is great, and I (and other champions) are always looking for leverage points that can give us an edge, too many people (about 98% of them…) are too focused on the “not harder” part.

They are looking for short-cuts and magic-pills that will get them off the hook for doing the work.

This is NOT how champions think!

The motto of Champions is: “Work Smarter AND Harder!”

Dallas Seavey lives that motto every day…

Not only does he out-work the competition in training, he out works them on the trail as well.

While most of the other racers wear heavy boots, and are standing on the skis of their sled or even sitting down on their sleds, Dallas works harder…

Dallas wears trail RUNNING SHOES and rather than letting his dogs do all the work, pulling him up the hills, he jumps off the sled and RUNS up the hills (and mountains) to help his dogs conserve energy!

Even on stretches of trail too icy for him to run and get traction on he is using a ski-pole to continuously, mile after mile, push his sled forward and take part of the load off of his team.

It was an amazing sight at 4am, watching Dallas after nearly 9 days on the trail, coming down the street in Nome, running in front of his sled, PULLING with his dogs down the final stretch to the finish…

THAT is a champions work-ethic!

4. Champions Study and Plan Their Route:

Most people in life “make it up as they go”. They flow from one day to the next, one year to the next, just taking what life (or the trail) gives them.

One of the key mindset differences between the 2% and the 98% is the difference between living proactively or reactively.

The 98% live reactively… Simply reacting and responding to whatever life gives them as it happens. (This tends to create a “victim” mentality…)

Champions and those in the 2% chose to live PROACTIVELY. We believe that we have the power to script and create much of our future the way we want it to go.

But in order to live proactively, you must be willing to put in the work to study and plan the path you wish to travel.

Dallas does this like a MASTER when it comes to running the Iditarod. He has run and became familiar with every single mile of the 1,049 mile trail. He makes sure his lead dogs are familiar with the trail.

(And that came in handy this year because the white-out conditions and wind were so bad he couldn’t see, and had to trust his lead dogs to stay on the trail and get him safely to Nome!)

But he doesn’t just stop with knowing the route. He also studies past races, times between checkpoints, rest times, other racers habits and patterns, other racers dogs, weather conditions, wind speeds, snow depths, and dozens of other data-ponts.

He uses all of this data to plan and plot every leg of his race with exacting precision.

Planning down to the minute, how long he needs to take between each of the checkpoints, how long he will rest his dogs at each stop, which dogs he will have in which positions… EVERYTHING. Dallas plans EVERYTHING.

But more important, he has the discipline to stick with his plan regardless of what other racers are doing! (Even if that means having the patience to be back as far as 20th place for much of the race…)

5. Champions Know That Success is a Marathon, Not a Sprint… And They Conserve and Maintain Their (and their teams) Energy For When It’s Needed Most!

This is one of the most brilliant and masterful parts of the “Dallas Seavey” strategy to winning long races.

Rather than trying to go out “like a rabbit” and run in front for the entire race, he has the patience to stick with his planned run-rest timetable, and conserve his teams energy for the last big push.

Dallas calls this “building the monster”…

Because of this, on the last legs of the race, when the other teams dogs are spent and tired, Dallas’s team has a massive amount of “gas left in the tank” to kick things into high gear, and pass everyone for the win.

He even goes so far as to rotate his key dogs between running and RIDING in his sled!

The key lesson to learn here is, particularly when you are just getting started with a new project or business idea, to NOT burn yourself (or your team) out too soon.

So many people start projects, but lose steam and never finish them. This is why…

6. Champions Recognize They Can’t Win By Themselves – They Focus on Building a Team and Developing Leaders:

While being a champion and a leader can at times be a lonely endeavor, it’s nearly impossible to succeed alone.

All champions and winners have coaches and team members.

Dallas knows this all too well. Mentored from an early age by his father, a 2-time Iditarod winner himself, Dallas takes a long-term team-building approach to his racing.

This years team of dogs is a perfect example…

The average age of the dogs on this years winning team is 2-3 years old. And each year Dallas rotates older dogs out, and new dogs into the lineup.

He is building a team that can not only win this year, but can dominate for years to come!

And Dallas seems to have a knack for picking and building “leaders” among his dogs. By investing the proper time months before the race in selecting and grooming his top-dogs for leadership roles out on the trail, Dallas ensures when his dogs run into conditions like they did this year, his lead dogs are prepared and unfazed.

If you are in business for yourself, I strongly encourage you to take this long-term, leader-building focus with your own team.

Don’t just hire someone who can do the job right now… Hire (and train) people so they can do the job when your company is 2-3 times as big as it is now.

7. Champions Know… It’s Not Over — Until Its Over!

During season 2 of Ultimate Survival Alaska, Dallas’s “Endurance Team” was in last place with only 1 win vs. the other 2 remaining teams having 3 wins each.

With only 3 legs of the expedition to go, Dallas realized that his team would have to win ALL of the remaining races or they would be out of the running in the competition.

Amazingly enough, that’s EXACTLY what they did. Going back to basics, Dallas set a run/rest schedule for his team for each leg of their adventure, and they methodically and scientifically came back from a seemingly impossible deficit to win ALL of the remaining race legs to be crowned with the title of “Ultimate Alaskan Survivors”.

Dallas’s refusal to quit and champion spirt showed itself again during the Iditarod.

During the first 7 days of the race, Dallas bounced between as far back 20th place up to 7th place.

At no point before the last leg was Dallas in the lead.

But true to his methodical, scientific strategy of conserving energy in his lead dogs, and “building the monster” during the last 24 hours of the race, Dallas blasted his way to the front and found himself in the top 3 with only 22 miles to go.

Amazingly enough, conditions on the trail were so rough and brutal, the lead was blown off the trail and the #2 racer decided to stop to wait out the storm.

Dallas’s preparation paid off, as he passed both of them to take the lead and win.

The key lesson to take away from his example is that it’s only “over” if you quit! Keep fighting and pushing until the very end, no matter how far behind you think you are!

That’s what champions do!

Bonus Lesson on Luck:  Many say Dallas got lucky this year because while he was in 3rd place the weather became so bad the leader was blow off the trail and had to scratch, and the person in 2nd place stopped to wait out the wind (until Dallas passed her and she took up the chase.)

And those people are right, there was an element of “luck” in his win this year. (And Dallas himself didn’t even know he won until a few minutes after he crossed the finish line! He though he was still in 3rd!)

However, I am a firm believer in the concept of “creating your own luck”, and in what a wise philosopher said over 2,000 years ago…

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

And Dallas (and the team he trained) was certainly prepared to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.

Because of the training and conditions he had exposed his team to over the years, he was confident enough to press on, into the near hurricane strength winds along the Bering Sea coast that stopped the other front runners cold.

So the lesson to learn here is that you can create your own luck by preparing in advance to be ready to strike when the opportunity arrives.

What will look like “luck” to the 98% of people who “live lives of quiet desperation”, will be recognized by your fellow 2%ers and other champions as a demonstration of your will, dedication, and commitment to prepare.

Bottom-line…

There is value in studying, hanging out with, and modeling the thought processes and behaviors of world-class, champion performers in ANY field of endeavor.

Because what it takes to win in business, in sports, in life, and yes… even in dog mushing … is the exact same core set of skills, beliefs, disciplines and mindsets.

I challenge you, right now, to commit to following the example of champions like Dallas Seavey and cultivate a winning mindset, train and prepare to win, out-work your competition, charge head-first into the storms of life, and NEVER quit until you’ve won!

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UPDATE: After winning the Iditarod for a THIRD TIME in 2015, Dallas and his wife invited my daughter and I to visit their home and kennel in Willow, AK to talk with them about strategies for growing their Sled Dog Tour business, an opportunities outside of mushing.

Here is a short video I recorded (actually my daughter was holding the phone) after spending the better part of the day together talking about all kinds of topics!

Dallas shares some great wisdom about what it takes to be a champion!

Eric Graham (6 Posts)

As an in-demand professional speaker and the founder and CEO of multiple highly successful online and offline companies Eric Graham helps entrepreneurs, authors, speakers and coaches maximize their incomes and magnify their impact on the world. On this blog he shares valuable, actionable and insightful content (articles, videos, tips, opinions, ideas and news) that you can immediately put to use in your business and your life. Follow Eric on Twitter!


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