Ex-Pro Wrestler Is Rookie Musher

Anchorage Daily News – March 7, 2000
By Lew Freedman

Precious Paul competes in a different wardrobe these days.

He’s gone from loincloth to Lycra. From scanty pants to snow pants. From bare chest to bearskins.

Oh, yeah, he’s also gone from the World Wrestling Federation to the Iditarod.

The musher who dashed out of Anchorage wearing bib No. 79 Saturday is called Paul Ellering in real life. He’s parked his half nelson and pulled on a parka. He’s stopped talking about Hulk Hogan and started talking about Rick Swenson.

This is an Iditarod first. A professional wrestler tackles the 1,150-mile mush to Nome. Talk about your midlife career changes.

”I’ve always been a person who challenged myself,” said Ellering, 46, of Grey Eagle, Minn. ”I think everybody needs something to make you want to jump out of bed.

Everybody needs a passion.”

As of early this morning, Ellering was in 74th place out of 81 mushers. Paul Gebhardt, who finished sixth last year, was the race’s leader.

Racing the Iditarod wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment leap for Ellering. He started his kennel by buying dogs from five-time champion Swenson. He’s raced the 500-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Minnesota several times, and he’s received pointers from 1989 Iditarod champion Joe Runyan.

In 1991, Ellering read a book about mushing and was intrigued. About the same time, he ran across Runyan giving a seminar. Ellering introduced himself. With common interests in hunting, fishing and mushing, they’ve been pals ever since.

”The guy’s awesome,” said Runyan, who lives in Cliff, N.M. ”He’s the most inspirational guy I’ve ever met.”

Why? Runyan believes Ellering’s attitude is Norman Vincent Peale-upbeat and that he is more motivated than Michael Jordan. Still, it’s not as if Runyan believes Precious Paul will be Precocious Paul and win the Iditarod on his first try.

”I think he’ll have a real steady team,” Runyan said. ”It’s not a championship team.”

Slimmed down from his wrestling weight of 255 pounds to 180, Ellering has a sturdy, muscular build and a thick mustache. When he arrived on Saturday morning, he was the man in black, wearing a dark sponsor cap, a black jersey and black pants — and dark glasses.

Though he is new to the Iditarod, Ellering’s mushing and wrestling careers overlapped before he gave up headlocks three months ago to operate a health club near Grey Eagle, his home 35 miles north of St. Cloud, Minn., and drive dogs on nearby trails. He shifted back and forth between the two disparate worlds for much of the 1990s. But while admitting that neither group really understands the peculiarities of the other, Ellering did adopt an aphorism to live by.

”Never trust a dog to guard your food,” Ellering said. ”And never trust a wrestler to guard your food.”

Ellering said he always knew he’d try the Iditarod and this seemed like the right time.

”I want to put it on the old resume,” Ellering said.

Not that he thinks it’s going to be easy. He’s broken the race into thirds: Relax the fir st third, pick up the pace the second third, and push it through the last third.

Ellering said he used the Precious Paul moniker because he invested in commodities and ”since I am such a precious commodity.” Now that he’s retired from wrestling, though, Ellering is in the market for a mushing nickname.

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