By KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News
Here’s how to tell them apart.
Red hat and red-and-black sled? That’s Anna, the rookie. In the blue hat, with the blue-and-black sled, is Kristy, a two-time Iditarod finisher.
“Our mom didn’t even know she was having twins until Anna was born,” said Kristy Berington, who is five minutes older than her sister and fellow sled dog racer. “She never even got an ultrasound and our heartbeats were completely identical.”
Iditarod trail checkpoints are often something of a family reunion. Three generations of Seaveys are running this year. So are the brothers Smyth and the Redington boys. Father-and-son Busers.
But as the 975-mile trek begins this weekend, Kristy and Anna Berington are the first twins to compete in the Iditarod’s 40-year history, according to a race spokeswoman. The mushers suspect they are also the first sisters in the Iditarod and race officials can find no evidence to the contrary.
Tall and blond, the 28-year-olds are head-turners at every race they enter. This, in a sport where three out of four 2012 Iditarod racers are men.
As a result, some onlookers were quick to dismiss Kristy when she began racing, Anna said.
“A lot of people kind of get the feeling that she’s just a pretty face. That she doesn’t know what she’s doing, that kind of thing,” Anna said. “But she’s definitely proven that she is a dog musher.”
Kristy Berington finished 39th in the 2010 Iditarod and 29th in 2011. She placed ninth in this year’s Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile race that’s often considered a more punishing journey than the Iditarod, winning the Veterinarian’s Choice Award for best dog care. Anna has won similar humanitarian awards in shorter races this season.
HOMEMADE DOG SLEDS
The sisters grew up in northern Wisconsin, where they built dog sleds from downhill skis and a milk crate. Their sled dogs: a border collie and Great Pyrenees.
As the pair described the childhood scene, they sometimes spoke in unison or completed each other’s sentences.
“It wasn’t necessarily that Iditarod was the huge dream,” Kristy said. “It was dogs,” both sisters said at once.
“(We’d) make them break trail and stuff and just be outside …,” Anna began. “… Pretending we were mushers,” Kristy finished.
When the twins each braid their hair and dress in matching gear, they’re mirror images, said mortuary owner-turned-mushing apprentice Scott Janssen, who trains with Anna in Kasilof.
A 2011 Iditarod finisher, Janssen and Anna run dogs from 1984 champion Dean Osmar’s kennel, Janssen said. Kristy trains with Iditarod veteran Paul Gebhardt, based out of a neighboring dog yard.
“We see each other every day, but we have different dogs, different kennels,” Kristy said. “We did kind of write out the same run-and-rest schedule, so it could be we see each other a lot at the checkpoints.”
In previous races, where only Kristy was running, the sisters joked about the “Parent Trap”-style hijinks identical twins could pull on the Iditarod trail.
“We say, 'Oh yeah, we’ll go ahead and switch (places) in Takotna when I’m twenty-fouring. Anna can fly up there,’” Kristy said, referring to the mandatory rest stop mushers must take along the trail.
The Beringtons will begin the race within minutes of one another Saturday at the ceremonial start in Anchorage and again at the timed start tomorrow in Willow. Kristy drew position No. 31, Anna is No. 33.
“The hardest part will be not wanting to run together,” Kristy Berington said.
Twitter updates: twitter.com/iditarodlive. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.