Sports and Features Editor Jeff Helminiak has been working around his erratic schedule at the Peninsula Clarion since 1997.
Helminiak moved to Kenai from Wisconsin shortly after a guided float trip with his father on the Tatshenshini-Alsek system in Southeast Alaska.
“The notorious Southeast rain was absent for the whole trip,” Helminiak said. “I’d just graduated with a degree in journalism, and when we returned, we walked past the Juneau Empire office and I thought to myself, “You know, I could see being a journalist in Alaska.”
Twenty-two years later and Helminiak is the longest standing employee at the Peninsula Clarion.
“I didn’t know much about the area,” Helminiak said. “I remember driving down from Anchorage and getting really excited at all the scenery. As I headed to the central Kenai Peninsula, I was like, “What happened to the mountains?”
Since that initial drive, though, Helminiak has explored everything the Kenai Peninsula has to offer. From skiing Tsalteshi Trails to hiking Cecil Rhode Mountain in Cooper Landing, he spends his time out of the office enjoying Alaska.
Last summer, Helminiak found himself summiting Mount Ascension near Seward on a solo adventure.
“I went planning to scout it out for a future hike and didn’t plan on getting to the summit. I sliced open my hand on some shale and had to double back due to a poor route on the glacier. But there was still an opportunity to summit and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so I took that opportunity. When I’ve seen Ascension since then, I really don’t believe I was up there.”
When he’s not looking at the weekly weather forecast, watching for the bluebird days, Helminiak is keeping an eye on the weekly sports schedule.
One of his favorite local events to cover is the Mount Marathon Race on the Fourth of July in Seward.
“There’s something special, something universal, about it that draws spectators who otherwise would never attend a running race. I’ve yet to put my finger on what that something is,” he said.
One year in particular stands out in his mind. Elite mountain runners Killian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg competed in 2015, winning the men’s and women’s race respectively.
“I’ll always remember when Forsberg crossed the line with a huge smile at 47 minutes, 48 seconds, obliterating the iconic 1990 record of 50:30 by Nancy Pease,” Helminiak said. “There was an odd, momentary pause among journalists and volunteers at the finish line in the seconds after she finished, with everybody clearly asking themselves, “Did that really just happen?””
Despite his love for sports, Helminiak finds it hard to make time for national level events.
“I’m the sports editor, but because I work afternoons, nights and weekends, I rarely get to watch national sports live on TV,” Helminiak said. “That’s why I love the Australian Open men’s final. It starts at 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday night in Alaska. It’s the only event I can get off work and watch like a normal person.”