Sullivan Honors Beth Bragg as “Alaskan of the Week”

WASHINGTON—On the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized Beth Bragg, of Anchorage, who retired recently after a 35-year-long career covering sports for the Anchorage Daily News. Bragg has covered Alaska’s diverse sports scene and events, from the Iditarod to the World Eskimo Indian Olympics, as well as Alaska’s many heroes, from Kikkan Randall, to Tommy Moe, to Lydia Jacoby, to the everyday athlete who makes Alaska so special. Bragg was recognized as part of Sen. Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

Tribute to Beth Bragg

Madam President, it is Thursday, and it is usually the day I get to come down to the Senate floor. Usually, the Senate is kind of wrapping up things; we are still pretty busy right now. But it is the day I love to come down to the Senate floor and talk about somebody in my State, the great State of Alaska, who is making a difference either for their community, for their State, for the country; you name it. We call this person the Alaskan of the Week.

We have done it a lot. I usually like to give a little bit of an update. The pages typically really like this time of the week because we get to tell stories about Alaska, about the adventure of Alaska, but also about--typically, a little update about what is happening in the State. 

Right now, we are in a bit of a cold snap pretty much throughout the State. We are getting a lot of snow throughout the State. We have seen some record low temperatures all across Alaska, from Homer, King Salmon, Bethel.

Monday in Fairbanks--so this is not even into December yet--it was 26 below zero. They are tough in Fairbanks, very tough. You get down to 50, 60 below in Fairbanks.

My wife is from Fairbanks. She is a wonderful volunteer for this organization called Covenant House. They did their annual ``Sleep Out.'' It is a homeless shelter for teenage youth. This was in Anchorage just a couple of weeks ago. It was 15 below for the ``Sleep Out.'' You get a cardboard box and say: Good luck. So, boy, she is tough.

Alaskans across the State are rugged, tough, individualistic, and we bond all the more for it. We are in it together when it is that cold. And it frequently is. And like one big community, one of the many things that brings us together--actually, one of the many things that brings Americans together--is bonding over sports: local sports, State sports, national sports, and your local newspaper as it relates to sports reporting. It is actually a universal instinct.

One of our most famous Supreme Court Justices, Earl Warren, said it best:

I always turn to the sports section first [in the morning]. The sports page records people's accomplishments. The front page [usually] has nothing but [people's] failures.

I am not sure that is always true, but it is a good anecdote in terms of what binds us with regard to sports. 

You know, over the holidays, in particular, everybody in America watches great football, other sports activities. I had a good chat over lunch today with Coach Tuberville about the really incredible Alabama Auburn game that just happened last week. 

But sports is also the place in our local papers where we see the names of our children, our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends. In fact, it might just be the only time their names appear in the paper at all, when you think about it. 

So our Alaskan of the Week this week is somebody who knows sports and sportswriting in Alaska better than anybody. We are talking about Beth Bragg, who recently retired after 35 years as a sportswriter for the Anchorage Daily News. She understood all of these attributes about sportswriting better than anybody. 

During her 35 years at the paper, Beth always told cub reporters there was one rule they must always follow, no matter what. She said: Even if the person's name is something like Cindy Jones, ask that person for the spelling. It might be the only time their name appears in the paper, and it is very important that name is spelled correctly. 

Now, let me talk about Beth, about her reporting and about her work and how it has added to our communities across the great State of Alaska.

Beth grew up in Billings, MT. Her father worked for the Billings Gazette. And she, too, while still in high school, joined the paper as a sports clerk so this is in her blood.

Now, it wasn't so much that she was crazy about sports back then, but it was a job, a good job. And then she said she began, bit by bit, to fall in love with newspapers and sports reporting. She liked the irreverence, the strict deadlines, the energy.

Importantly--and it is almost counterintuitive--covering sports allows more fun in the writing, the opportunity as a writer to take a little bit more in terms of chances and to be more creative than maybe on other beats. And throughout the years, Beth has brought so much of this kind of creativity, so much heart to her stories. 

Without looking at a byline in Alaska, you always knew when you were reading a Beth Bragg story. So, in 1986, when she was 27 years old, she came to Alaska to write for the Anchorage Daily News. That is our State's biggest paper. She thought she would stay for a few years, then move on. Her dream was to cover professional sports, maybe even Major League Baseball in a city that has got a Major League Baseball team, but as the years progressed, she stayed in Alaska. She fell in love with Alaska, and her ambitions as a sportswriter changed. But, in some ways, they got even bigger. 

She discovered that, in her words, ``the real reward, and the real challenge, is to find stories that resonate with everyone. And you don't have to be at the Super Bowl to do that.''

In fact, Beth said she found more interesting, more unique stories to cover in Alaska than probably anywhere else.

Now, we don't have big-time professional sports teams in the great State of Alaska, but we do have sports, loads of sports. And just like so much about Alaska, we have expanded the meaning of what it means to partake in sports.

Let's take one very famous sport in Alaska, the Iditarod--the famous 800-mile sled dog race--as one big example. There is also heli-skiing, ice climbing, curling, and snowboarding. It didn't get its start in Alaska, but it reached its apex in Valdez, for those who participated in that incredible sport.

Beth is likely one of the few, if only, reporters in the country who reported on this incredible sport in Alaska at 3 a.m., seal-skinning. Yes, that is a sport. It goes along with the ear pull and other sports in terms of competition at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics, which are incredible to go to and watch in Alaska--great athletes, by the way.

She covered seal skinning, the competition. At 3 a.m. she was tired, but the excitement and the smell of the seals--first frozen, then thawed for the competition--kept her wide awake.

We may not have professional sports teams, but we certainly have athletic stars galore in Alaska. For 35 years, Beth has written about these stars and some of the toughest athletes anywhere in the world. Let me give you a couple examples.

She wrote about athletes running Mount Marathon. Now, I gave an ``Alaskan of the Week'' speech several months ago about Mount Marathon. It is what Outside magazine calls ``the toughest 5K on the planet''--straight up a mountain and straight back down. We always do it on July 4 in Seward.

She wrote about the Alaska Wilderness Classic, the 150-or-so-mile ``secret race'' up mountains and across rivers in the Alaskan wilderness. Here are the rules of the Alaska Wilderness Classic: No outside support, nothing human-powered, leave no trace, and rescue is up to the racer. Pretty tough. Pretty tough.

She wrote about the Arctic Man, another incredible Alaska event that has been described as one of the world's toughest downhill ski races and an exciting snow machine race, all combined together. You want to see something amazing? Go to the Arctic Man.

She has written about swimming heats and cross-country track and field matches; skiing, lots of stories about skiing in Alaska; ice hockey; high school football; basketball games; and, as I mentioned, the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, with the ear pull and the blanket toss.

She wrote a great story about a mother and son literally tied by rope together for 2 weeks climbing Denali, North America's tallest peak, in Alaska.

There was a story about a sled dog that was cut loose and ran away from her Iditarod sled dog pack. Miraculously, this dog found her way home to her kennel through mountain ranges and hundreds of miles of tundra in the dead of an Alaskan winter. Pretty amazing. 

She wrote a great story about an event I attended this past June, an inspiring USA Patriots-Amputee Softball Team event where almost every player on that team were some of our greatest American heroes. Almost all of them had lost a limb--all of them had lost a limb, mostly in combat. 

Always at the center of Beth's stories are the people, even when those people are sled dogs. She has written about their victories; their struggles; their heart for the game, for their teams, for their communities, for their State, for their country, and for life itself.

Thinking back on her long career, a few events stay with her. She talked a lot about what it was like to watch Alaskans compete in the Olympics, four of which she attended--Olympic Games.

Now, we are a huge State. I talk about that a lot. We have a pretty small population relative to other States--730,000 people. But Alaska is really good in terms of Olympic athletes. We punch way above our weight, sending some of the top American athletes to especially the Winter Olympics but also the Summer Olympics.

Beth remembers, for example, the electricity in the Olympic stadium in Norway in 1994 when a little-known Alaskan named Tommy Moe shocked the world by winning the gold in the downhill and then, 4 days later, a silver, becoming the first American skier ever to win two medals at the same Olympics.

She remembers writing stories about the legendary and beloved cross-country skier from Alaska Kikkan Randall when Kikkan was just 13 years old. Then, like so many Alaskans, Beth swelled with pride and cried when Kikkan Randall won the gold in 2018.

Beth said she also cried just this summer when 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby from Seward, AK, shocked the world by winning the gold medal in Tokyo this summer in the 100-meter breaststroke. Remember that? Seward, AK, doesn't even have an Olympic-size swimming pool. And I will say, Lydia Jacoby is the only person in U.S. history to be Alaskan of the Week in the U.S. Senate twice. That is unbelievable.

Of course, there are heartbreaks, too--the losses, the illnesses, the injuries, and sometimes the deaths--all of which Beth has handled with the utmost sensitivity. Because she was at it for so long and has so much history with Alaskan athletes, she understood something about them that a new reporter might not. It takes a certain kind of grit to be an athlete in Alaska, to wake up at 6 a.m. and head off into the dark, subzero weather to train. It takes a certain kind of grit to travel outside of Alaska for competitions, often thousands of miles away from your home, to get noticed. As Beth said, ``You have to work hard to make it big'' in Alaska. As a result, she thinks Alaska athletes have a sense of home in a way a lot of other athletes don't. 

As I said, Beth recently retired. She is going to clean her home; maybe travel some; of course, watch some sports, as a fan now, not as a reporter. She leaves behind a great legacy, thousands of stories charting some of our State's greatest moments in athletics, times when we all cheered and cried and came together to support the best of our people and competition and grit and determination--the reason Americans across the country love sports so much.

Beth, thank you for your great job. Congrats on an incredibly stellar career, and, of course--I am sure one of your biggest honors ever--congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week.

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