Essential oils guru Donald Gary Young was barely dead before Mitch Seavey, the three-time champion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race got tossed to the dogs.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) immediately began a celebration and declared victory, claiming in a Wednesday press release that the company’s decision was in reaction to PETA protests.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with PETA,” Danny Seavey, Mitch’s son messaged today. “Gary Young passed away a couple days ago, and the dog mushing has always been his thing.
“I think we’ve known since the start that it was Gary that kept the sponsorship afloat in the company. We have long known that if he wasn’t there the penny-pinchers probably wouldn’t approve.”
Young Living spokesman Blake Rhodes offered this statement after being contacted:
“Young Living regularly reviews each of our sponsorships to ensure that they continue to support our strategic initiatives. As part of this review process, we recently decided to discontinue our sponsorship of any activities related to the sport of mushing.”
Rhodes said the company was contacted by PETA after that decision was made, and “in the spirit of transparency” decided it was only right to tell the animal-rights group it was disconnecting from the sled-dog-racing business.
For the past four years, Young – who hoped to run the 1,000-mile Iditarod from Willow to Nome – has been Mitch’s biggest booster. It is unknown exactly how much money Young paid Mitch to serve as Young Living ambassador, but dog mushing has featured prominently on website of the Young Living Foundation.
Young himself ran the Tustumena 200 and Willow 300 sled dog races this year with the help of the Seaveys. Both races are Iditarod qualifiers. Sled-dog businesses helping those trying to enter the Iditarod are usually compensated handsomely.
“Gary had wanted to race in this past Iditarod, but he’s currently dealing with some health issues,” the company reported via a “sponsored content” story, sort of a long-form press release, in the Anchorage Press in March.
Young died May 13. He was 68. His death was first reported by the MLM News Report, a trade publication of the Multi-Level Marketing Industry. Young made a fortune in the marketing business.
Mitch today posted on his Facebook page that Young shared a “passion for sled dogs (that) led to a personal friendship between us, some great times shared on the trail, and in our home, and to my being a brand ambassador since 2014. Now that Gary is gone, we all must move on, and I will no longer be a brand ambassador for Young Living.
“My family and I are blessed to be able to continue our racing activities as we wish, and this will not affect our future plans.”
Young parlayed essential oils and their alleged healing powers into a company with sales now topping $1 billion per year. Along the way he attracted a fair bit of attention for his marketing practices.
“Honey Boo Boo, Snake Oil, and Ebola: The Weird World of Young Living Essential Oils,” The Daily Beast headlined in 2014. “Claiming to be useful against Ebola, autism, and cancer, Young Living Essential Oils came under fire from the FDA. Now Honey Boo Boo’s sister is the company’s latest spokeswoman.”
“There appears to be an uncomfortable cult of personality around Young,” reporter Kent Sepkowitz wrote. “For example, his first-person story on the website says he was a hard-working logger who had a terrible accident many years ago, rendering him paralyzed. It was only by eating and drinking certain juices, the story says, that he got out of the wheelchair and regained the ability to walk. Dr. (Eva) Briggs (of Quackwatch), however, found evidence to refute every word of Young’s life-story.
“His acolytes, some of whom refer to themselves as ‘health freedom fighters’ are undeterred by this sort of jealous shop talk. They are true believers and to appear to love working for the man.”
“It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that our mentor and friend, our beloved founder Gary Young, passed away peacefully today in Salt Lake City, Utah surrounded by his closest family and friends due to complications resulting from a series of strokes,” it said.
Young had a checkered past. He was investigated by authorities in 1982 after his daughter died during a water birth, and in 1983, he was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. He later spent time running a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, which the Los Angeles Time outed as something of a scam to sell people cancer treatments they didn’t need.
He stumbled onto essential oils in France and in “1994, he married his third wife, Mary, a trained opera singer and a driven businesswoman. The couple renovated a run-down building in Riverton, Utah, to use as the headquarters of Young Living Essential Oils,” Rachel Monroe wrote last year after a lengthy probe of the essential oils business for the The New Yorker.
Essential oils turned out to be a goldmine for the Youngs. Gary, as he was known, clearly enjoyed the wealth.
“As Young Living grew, former employees told me, reining in Young’s spending became an issue,” Monroe wrote. “At the company’s showcase farm, in Mona, Utah, Young built replicas of a Wild West town and a medieval castle. As ‘Sir Gary,’ he hosted tournaments, in which he donned a suit of armor and competed in jousting events. He had plans drawn up for a $250 million theme park, Mount Youngmore, which would feature jousting, a five-star hotel, and a mountain with Young’s face etched on it. (Young has denied this.)
‘”‘It was just crazy what they were trying to build out there,’ David Stirling, then Young Living’s chief operating officer, told (Monroe). Stirling said he was also alarmed by a video he saw of Young, whose only medical degree is a doctorate in naturopathy from an unaccredited school, performing gallbladder surgery and giving essential oils intravenously at the clinic in Ecuador. Stirling attempted to shift Young Living’s focus away from Young to the oils, but he met with resistance from Young—and also from many distributors, who felt a deep loyalty to Gary and Mary.”
Stirling was eventually fired and moved on to form his own essential oils company. Young Living, meanwhile, just kept growing and Gary found a new passion – sled dogs.
More than Mitch
Gary’s association with sled dogs only started with Mitch Seavey in 2014. By this year, Gary was in deep. His company bought the name of Montana’s biggest sled dog race.
“The 33rd version of the Race to the Sky, which starts in Lincoln on Saturday Feb. 10, is now the Young Living Race to the Sky after reaching an agreement with an international marketer of essential oils based in Lehi, Utah,” the Missoulian reported in February.
“Sponsorship of the Race to the Sky comes through Young Living’s philanthropic arm, the D. Gary Young Foundation,” reporter Kim Briggeman wrote.
“Young became a sled dog racing enthusiast in recent years and was interested in the Race to the Sky through his Montana mentor, Jessie Royer of Darby. A veteran of the Alaska Iditarod, Royer is the lone three-time winner of Race to the Sky.”
The story quoted Race to the Sky secretary Pam Beckstrom saying Gary has “had the goal of running Iditarod for several years. He absolutely adores the dogs, and he just thinks the sport is the coolest thing since sliced bread.”
Gary employed Royer, a top-10 Iditarod finisher, as the dog handler at Young Living’s Utah ranch this winter, but the two parted ways amid accusations Royer treated the dogs too harshly in the eyes of some ranch guests.
The Missoulian noted Gary’s time spent training with Mitch, who “is a spokesman for Young Living Essential Oils MindWise, a brain health-supporting serum.”
“For nearly two decades, I’ve used Young Living Wintergreen Oil for after-workout massages on my elite canine athletes,” Mitch posted on his Facebook page on Feb. 13, 2015. “In fact, we used so much Wintergreen we once tried a knock-off product from an online source – until the dogs began losing hair and suffering skin irritations.”
Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate, an Iditarod-prohibited chemical.
The Iditarod revealed it had detected the drug in Mitch’s dog, but did not consider it a “positive drug test” because the detected quantities were so so small. The Iditarod has no black-and-white rules for positive drug tests.
Positive drug tests are only tests the race’s board of directors rules positive. Until last year, the Iditarod had never encountered a doping case the board was willing to call a positive drug test.
But that changed when the team of four-time champ Dallas Seavey was found doped with tramadol, a pain killer, after the race finish in Nome in 2017. The Iditarod took no action against Dallas, saying it couldn’t definitively prove he doped the dogs, and they tried to conceal his name.
Last fall, however, the four-time champ was publicly identified as the man with the doped team, and Idit-a-world blew up. Dallas continues to insist he didn’t dope the dogs. He contends a jealous competitor, an animal rights activist or an angry member of the Iditarod Trail Committee, the race’s management arm, must have done it.
The Iditarod has said he it has found no evidence the dogs were doped by a third party while trying to patch things up with Dallas, who insists he wants nothing less than an apology for being falsely accused.
Meanwhile, PETA has upped its attack on the grueling, 1,000-mile wilderness race. It has been a tough past nine months for an event promoted as “The Last Great Race” and for the Seaveys.