Red lantern finisher Olivia Webster poses with her grandpa, LeRoy Shank, at the finish line of the 2020 Yukon Quest in Whitehorse on Feb. 15. Shank, one of the Quest’s founders, died this month at the age of 79. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon Quest co-founder dies

Yukon Quest co-founder LeRoy Shank died earlier this month in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Shank and three others gathered at a table in the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks back in 1983 to plan the first international sled dog race to pay homage to the historical role of the Yukon River as a winter highway, as the story goes. The next year, 26 mushers raced from Fairbanks to Whitehorse in the first Yukon Quest.

Shank himself entered the race twice, finishing 20th in 1987 and scratching in 1990.

His granddaughter Olivia Shank-Neff, listed as Olivia Webster in official Quest docucments, was this year’s Red Lantern winner and Shank was at the finish chute in Whitehorse to see her finish her first 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometre) race.

Shank-Neff made it clear all along her grandfather was her inspiration.

“I guess I’ve always been a grandpa’s girl and he’s my best friend, so I kind of wanted to be like him and so I did it.”

Shank was 79.

Alaskan media are reporting that a memorial service is being planned once restrictions on gatherings related to COVID-19 are lifted.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

Yukon Quest

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