Ohio State Mansfield product carves path to Iditarod
Matthew Failor ’07 loves being on a team. Whether it was during his basketball playing days with The Ohio State University at Mansfield or as musher for his dogsled team, Failor relishes competing alongside his best friends.
“I look at these dogs as my team,” said Failor, a Mansfield native who will compete in his eighth Iditarod Race beginning March 2. “We’re one unit. We go down the trail trying to do the best we can.”
That trail is nearly 1,000 miles from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nome, across a frozen tundra rife with buffalo, wolves, fox, moose and other native wildlife. The 50-plus teams in the race typically take nine to 12 days to complete it. A year ago, Failor had his best finish at 13th place.
In January, Failor warmed up for the Iditarod in impressive fashion when he won the Kuskokwim 300 in in a record time of 36 hours and 32 minutes, breaking the speed record held by his mentor, Martin Buser.
“My kennel and family always knew the dogs could win; it was just a matter of putting them in a position to succeed,” Failor said. “The only thing that has changed with winning this race is competitors and fans will look at our team a little differently. We have allowed the team to slowly develop over three years. Now they are mature adults who can compete.”
For a boy who grew up in a Midwest lifestyle — complete with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from Ohio State — his current life as musher and raising about 50 huskies as manager and dog trainer of Alaska Icefield Expeditions, Inc. in Willow, Alaska, is not typical.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Q: How did you go from Mansfield to the Iditarod?
A: When I was a student at Ohio State, my best friend took a summer job in Skagway, Alaska, for a tourism company that gave sled rides on a glacier. So in 2005, I went up there. That was my introduction to dog mushing. I brought a dog back to Columbus, and she went everywhere I went. We ran down High Street, went to the dog parks, I took her to College Gameday in front of the ’Shoe. She’s 13 now and still with me.
I went back every summer, and some of the Iditarod mushers took me under their wing in exchange for training dogs.
Q: Why do you enjoy it?
A: There’s something about raising your own team of sled dogs from literally the time they’re a second old, all the way up to taking them on their first Iditarod when they’re 2. It’s been nice to see all these dogs we’ve raised grow up and compete on the sled dogs’ greatest stage.
And we’re honored to represent the sport in a transparent way. Sometimes this sport gets picked on by people who don’t necessarily know it. Dogs are man and woman’s best friend, and people fear the worst. But from my 13 years of working in this industry, there’s nothing but love and equality for the dogs. And these dogs are genetically bred to do this; they actually do like it.
Q: As a college student, why did you choose Ohio State Mansfield?
A: Financially it was easier to handle, and it was a smart decision. We had a great connection with the Molyet family, who have done so much for the campus. I became a resident advisor and assistant director at the Molyet Village Apartments. It was such a down-to-Earth, unique experience because it felt like a small college but you had professionalism and renowned professors teaching you.
I knew eventually I’d have to go to Columbus to complete my degree, and I was happy with that decision, but I did miss Mansfield. It’s a wonderful campus—any of the regional campuses are. There’s a world of resources right there ready for you.
Q: Were there any professors in Mansfield who really impacted you?
A: John Thrasher was a tremendous influence on me as a young adult. He knew my brothers Ryan and John also. Ryan became a well-known artist and teaches now. John Thrasher was somebody I looked up to, and I still do. He pushed me to pursue art, and I got into photography. I took photography with Jeff Sprang (lecturer, photography) and both of them urged me to finish my photography degree in Columbus.
Q: Before you went to the Columbus campus, you played basketball for Ohio State Mansfield?
A: Sports were a huge part of my upbringing, and I wanted to play in college. We had guys from St. Pete, my high school, Lexington, Galion, Cleveland and Columbus. We called ourselves the “Gravy Train,” we were all small guys who just outworked everyone. We did that for three years, and we’d go up to the National Intramural Championship at Central Michigan. We actually had this awesome rivalry with the Ohio State Columbus campus club team, and we’d beat them.
Sports and other activities bring people together. Ninety-nine percent of my friends to this day are the guys I met playing basketball at Ohio State Mansfield.