Douglas Willett: 1937-2022
REMEMBERING A MUSHING LEGEND
On behalf of the board of the International Seppala Siberian Sleddog Club, I want to honor the passing of our club founder, Douglas Willett.
Doug Willett will forever stand as a legend, not only in the Seppala community, but in the mushing community as a whole. As a breed steward, he stands shoulder to shoulder with such names as Wheeler, McFaul, Sheerer, and Bragg. But as a musher, he has only one equal in the history of our breed. Only Doug Willett can stand, unashamed, beside Leonhard Seppala himself in terms of racing prowess.
Between 1974 and 2010, Doug Willett competed in over two hundred North American mid distance races totaling more than twelve thousand competition miles. And he didn't just compete. Doug won. Again and again.
Of those two hundred races Doug’s race record boasts no less than seventy-nine first place wins. Thirty-two second place wins. Twenty-nine third place wins. Eighty years after the legendary Leonhard Seppala dominated the Alaskan race circuit, Doug Willett picked up the mantle and proved, once again, that that the purebred Seppala Siberian Sleddog was capable of winning, consistently, against the mainstream racing Alaskan Husky. To Doug Willett’s family and friends, we offer our heartfelt sympathies. We pray peace upon you all. But Doug Willett lives on. And his legacy in the Seppala community continues. Every Seppala in my kennel has his “Seppalta” Kennel name in it, not more than 3 generations back. I received a message this morning- the day after we received the news of Willett’s passing, from the always jovial iditarod competitor, Lev Shvarts. Lev wrote, “Now that Doug has passed, you are the last hope for your breed. If you fail, all is lost. No pressure ;) “
I know I am no Doug Willett. Certainly no Leonhard Seppala (as Jeffrey Bragg once scoldingly reminded me). I don’t have the competitive drive that drove them. I have an explorer's and an adventurer's heart. But I do feel that pressure to see our breed continue into our century- performing well, and genetically healthy. And one thing is for sure- Poland Spring Seppala Kennels has not, and cannot do what needs to be done alone. I cannot do what I am doing, and could not have accomplished what little we have so far accomplished, without the efforts of such kennels as Deer Creek, Evergreen, Eversepp, Gatineau, Seppfire, Chukchi, Arctic Pack, Snowy Owl and others. What can we do to ensure Doug Willett’s legacy lives on in the Seppala community? First we must continue proving our Seppalas in harness. Generation after generation. Secondly, it was Doug Willett’s desire to heal the rift in the breed by offering to include the Jeffrey Bragg’s imports into the Seppala registry. Our Poland Spring K litter was our first effort to see Willett’s initiative realized- by bringing those two lines back together in one litter. And we have plans for other such breedings in the near future. “If you fail, all is lost. No pressure.” But I know this cannot be done alone- and so I look with faith to the future, as the next generation of Seppala kennels come along beside those who have been here for decades. Kennels like Call of the WYld, New Hope, Light Foot, Flaming Arrow, Astara, River Fever and others.
I reached out to Doug Willett on behalf of the ISSSC board, three years ago and asked him to take a lifelong appointment on the board of directors. We were honored to have him serve with us there until his passing two days ago. He will be greatly missed in the International Seppala Siberian Sleddog Club, but we will carry on his work, with his vision for the future of the breed in focus. We hope you will join us.