Alaskan Kikkan Randall recently became the first US woman to finish 3rd in the Nordic World cup! (Nordic is cross-country skiing, as opposed to downhill skiing. It’s a big sport in Alaska.) Kikkan is one of our state heroes or celebrities, which got me thinking how some of our famous Alaskans may be different from celebrity locals in other places.
Many of our celebrities are in sports. There’s Kikkan and other skiers like Nina Kemppel, Holly Brooks and Tommy Moe, and snowboarders Rosey Fletcher and Callan Chythlook-Sifsof. Every Olympics we have at least one competitor in riflery like Corey Cogdell and Matt Emmons. We even have a few Alaskans in “regular” sports nationally like hockey (Scott Gomez), basketball (Carlos Boozer) and football (Mark Schlereth). And I’ve written about the Iditarod before–common mushing celebrities include John Baker, Martin Buser, DeeDee Jonrowe, Jeff King and the Seaveys. (The son won last year, and dad won this year!)
But celebrity isn’t confined to sports. We also have a certain famous couple who started out as a Wasilla politician and a sportsman–Todd first got our attention by winning the Iron Dog snowmachine race. (I won’t go any more into the Palins–Alaskans either love them or hate them so I need to tread lightly here.) And our politicians are often celebrities–we’ve had so few state governors that any still living are adopted as elder statesmen.
We have a few reality shows set in Alaska, and if you’re associated with one (ie. captain of a certain crabbing boat) you’re also well-known here. I have to admit that I don’t have cable, so I can’t say much about those shows, but they bring us some celebrities too.
And we’ve been fortunate to have some great writers. I’ve written about authors quite a bit, especially in October for Alaska Book Week, but I have to mention the late John Haines, who is probably the poet that first put us on the literary map. And we have many current writers like Eowyn Ivey and Don Rearden who are getting attention now.
The cool part about Alaskan celebrities are how accessible they are. Most of them are nice, friendly people who are in the community. We’ll see someone in the movie theatre or wherever and recognize them, smile and maybe say hi if it seems like a good time for it. Often we’ll make introductions at an event and have a real conversation. For example, between us my dad and I have met a majority of the current state politicians. Some we know well–I went to high school with one of them, and with the wife of another. In the sports world, I have a friend who knows Scott Gomez. My husband used to work with Jeff King, and we’ve both talked to Martin Buser. I had John Baker’s nephew in my English class one year. And of course I’ve met many of the Alaskan writers. It really is a small world. One advantage of living in Alaska–the connections we make. Even with “famous” people.