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Bob Hickel's Iditarod Trail.

When Bob Hickel's friends and family met him in McGrath to cheer him along the 1990 Iditarod Hail, they noticed a change in the business executive turned amateur musher.'They commented that they'd never seen me so mellow," says the 43-year-old president of Anchorage's Hickel Investment Co.

Months after finishing last winter's 1,162-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, Hickel still relishes the opportunity to talk about the race for which he spent the better part of two years training. He's found it's a topic people - especially other business people want to hear about.

"When I go to a business meeting some place they don't want to hear about what deal I'm doing. They want to hear about the Iditarod,' says Hickel. 'It has a lot of mystique."

Hickel believes the race also has a lot to offer the business person looking for both a literal and mental change of scenery. I think more business-types like myself ought to give it a whirl," he says. "I always thought the race would add a different perspective on life and living, and it did. When you get out on the Iditarod Trail you just focus on what you're doing there.

While I was out there I never thought about business. I hardly thought about my family. Nothing else was important except what you were doing then, what you were planning to do in the next 10 hours. It's very intensive and very focused."

Anchorage consultant and family therapist John Pagan couldn't agree more. When working with business executives, Pagan often encourages his clients to exercise regularly and to take periodic breaks from the corporate world.

'It's like a sabbatical," says Pagan of an adventure such as running the Iditarod or taking an extended backpacking trip. In addition to helping business people refocus on themselves and their business, the temporary respite also helps them to exercise a different part of their brain.

It enhances their creative juices," explains Pagan. They see the world from a different perspective." Unfortunately, he adds, business executives often don't give themselves permission to take up a non-business related activity.

For Nick Pefanis, giving himself permission was easy, especially when the boss also gave him the go-ahead. Pefanis is one of at least two colleagues Hickel has talked into giving mushing a try. Although he's not ready for the Iditarod, Pefanis does have his sights set on a 300-mile qualify in grace this winter. He joined Hickel on several training runs last year.

It kind of relieves stress," says Pefanis, vice president of real estate for Hickel Investment Inc. 'It takes you away from everything here."

The race's effect on Hickel was obvious, says the 59-year-old executive. "Certainly when he came back he was mellow,' adds Pefanis.

Hickel also believes that running the race - or focusing on similar challenges - helps business executives to evaluate their priorities and return to the office refreshed and recharged. He says of his colleagues, A lot of them get too stressed out and take themselves too seriously in terms of their business. If they just step back and take a look at what's important, what's not important, I'm sure it would help their situation. If you feel better about yourself, it'll help whatever you're doing.'

Hickel adds, For me, the Iditarod was a real uplifting experience, a very positive thing. I think from that standpoint, it really helped our business.'

In the months before the race, colleagues had something to talk about instead of the sagging economy and the latest efforts at what Hickel calls "damage control.' Instead, friends at the office could talk about beaver hats, survival gear and Hickel's weekends in Trapper Creek running a dog team leased from veteran musher Dewey Halverson.

In addition to working with Halverson and training dogs, Hickel also had to train himself, both mentally and physically. He read and reread books by former Iditarod champions Rick Swenson and Libby Riddles. He talked to mushers. He did research on food and gear.

When it came to hands-on experience, Hickel ran a 300-mile qualifying race and up to 150 miles a weekend for several months. He also watched his diet and followed an already established, six-day-a-week exercise routine that included light aerobics, running and working with free weights and Nautilus equipment.

I was in the best mental and physical shape of my life when I ran the Iditarod,' says Hickel. I felt real strong physically and I felt real strong mentally, and I was ready for it."

Hickel estimates he spent more than $50,000 in two years to prepare for and run the Iditarod. Half of that was to lease the 19-dog team that led him to Nome in just under 16 days. (Winner Susan Butcher completed the race in just over 1 1 days.) Of the more than $50,000 spent, Hickel raised $30,000 in cash from enthusiastic friends and corporate sponsors, many of whom had never been asked to support an Iditarod musher.

Corporate sponsors included Humana Hospital-Alaska, for which Hickel once served on the board of trustees; Rollins Burdick Hunter; Prime Cable; Safeway; and MarkAir. But Hickel credits his wife, Carol, with being his 'chief sponsor," preparing special meals for him to take on the trail and taking care of the couple's four active children while he was training and running the race.

Although he placed 42nd out of 61 finishing mushers and although he modified his original goal as Rookie of the Year to getting to Nome with the most dogs in harness (a goal he achieved when he finished with 15), Hickel is happy with his Iditarod debut and plans to run it again in a couple of years. He also is doing research into a possible climb of Mount McKinley.

In addition to the challenge the Iditarod provided, Hickel appreciates the chance the race gave him to meet people he otherwise wouldn't have encountered, people who run dogs instead of hotels and invest in rural dog lots instead of urban shopping malls.

It's their business,' he says of mushers and their dogs. You run into a whole different group of people that I formerly wasn't exposed to and I thought that in itself was a great benefit." 4.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Executive Fitness
Author:Hill, Robin Mackey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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Next Article:The business doctor: family therapist John Pagan is diagnosing and treating business ills.

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