The thrill is not in victory but in the courage to join the race! Nowhere could this be more evident than at the Junior Iditarod banquet. These young mushers dreamed one day of running dogs. Later they dreamed of camping with their dogs. Even later these juniors dreamed of racing. They DARED to dream and they persevered to accomplish their dream.
Mike Williams of Akiak, Alaska and fifteen-year Iditarod veteran spoke to the teens. Williams told the teens they were all winners and they would grow from their experiences of mushing. Events like the Junior Iditarod would be the stepping-stones for their future. Williams promotes the importance of education. He also runs for sobriety.
Nicole Forto earned the Red Lantern, a symbol of perseverance awarded to the final musher to cross the finish line. Each of the mushers received a pail filled with merchandise and gift certificates from race sponsors and generous area merchants. In the big picture, the greatest prize was the satisfaction of a job well done.
Joshua Klejka who placed 8th was extremely happy to have had the opportunity to run on such good trail. There’s way more ice than snow around his home town of Bethel so while his dogs didn’t have enough training this year to be really competitive, musher and canines enjoyed the 124-mile run immensely.
Ashley Guernsey crossed the finish line in 7th place. When she was just a little girl, Ashley watched Season of the Sled Dog a video created by Mary Shields. Shields, the first woman to finish Iditarod inspired Ashley to run dogs. As a special surprise, Ashley received a gift from Mary Shields at the banquet. Ashley was the recipient of the Blue Harness award honoring one of the great lead dogs in the race. The Blue Harness award sometimes goes to a leader of the winning team. This time however Conway Seavey nominated Ashley’s lead dog, Cletus. Ashley dropped her best and most dependable leader at Yentna Station. Before departing she looked down her line of dogs and wasn’t at all certain about who to put in lead. She finally decided on one of the wheel dogs, lovable and friendly Cletus. Cletus had NEVER run a step of lead in his whole live let alone 62 miles of a race but he’d done an admirable job of pulling the sled out and around tight corners. Cletus apparently liked the changing view from the front of the team and was very comfortable in his new job. Cletus was not intimidated by the overflow. He was quite willing and game to follow Ashley and take the rest of the team through the water. Cletus is a Seavey dog so Conway knows what he’s been doing all his life. When he saw Ashley guide her team under the finish banner, he was amazed seeing Cletus in lead. There’s a lesson here – never let perception limit potential. Cletus obviously has the potential to be a great leader.
Jannelle Trowbridge brought her dogs to the finish in 6th place. Jannelle lives in Nome and has a very interesting breed of sled dog in her kennel along with the Alaskan Huskies she ran in the Junior. A few years back her father purchased a team of Greenland Inuit Huskies. The Greenland dogs are large and powerful but not as fast as the athletic Alaskan Huskies. Trowbridge, as the highest placing female in the Junior Race received a fur hat made by Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod.
Andrew Nolan claimed 5th place. Nolan who is 14 years old is coached by Wade Marrs. Andrew received a $1,500 scholarship from Lynden, Junior Iditarod Race Sponsor.
Jimmy Lanier made the Happy Trails finish line in 4th place. Lanier had a small problem while on the trail which a fellow musher helped him solve. Jimmy, a singer and baseball player, was very happy with his run even though his leaders broke free from the gangline. Imagine the shock on Jimmy’s face when the gap between his lead dogs and swing dogs got bigger and bigger and then he realized as they loped down the trail they were no longer attached to his sled and the rest of the team. The solution to this dilemma resulted in the selection of the sportsmanship recipient.
Kevin Harper crossed the finish line in 3rd place. Harper was a rookie who credits his older brother Ben with getting him into dogs. Kevin received a $2,500 scholarship from Lynden. Harper was also the recipient of the Sportsmanship Award voted on by his peers. Harper left Yentna ten minutes behind Jimmy Lanier but passed Jimmy on the trail. Harper was suddenly aware of a pair of dogs approaching him from behind. The pair of footloose dogs were connected by their tugs to a very short piece of gangline. Harper stopped the wayward pair and by the tags attached to their collar realized they belonged to Jimmy. Kevin secured the fancy-free dogs then turned his sled around and mushed back to Jimmy to return the wayward leaders. Kevin turned his sled 180 degrees to again face the finish line and continue on. Jimmy fixed his gangline and resumed his trek to the finish. How did those leaders gain their freedom? Seems the swing dogs had a little time to pass perhaps back at Yentna or on a snack break on the trail so they chose to entertain themselves by chewing on the gangline. With the pull exerted on the compromised line, it just gave way. For his unselfish act of aiding a fellow competitor, Kevin received a $2,000 Scholarship from Lynden. Kevin also claimed rookie of the year honors for the race and received a snow hook made by Mark Couch who ran in the first Junior Iditarod.
Ben Harper left Yentna Station two-minutes behind the lead musher and finished in second place by the same margin of time. Out of Yentna, Ben passed the leader more than once on the sixty-two mile return trip to Happy Trails but needed one more pass for the Championship. For his excellent and spirited run to the runner-up position, Lynden awarded Harper a $4,000 scholarship. More to Harper’s surprise was when the Humanitarian Award was announced. Veterinarians, Phil Meyer and Jayne Hempstead chose to honor Ben for his excellence in dog care. Asking Harper about the award later, he replied that it was completely unexpected. Inside he might have been saying it was an award that meant as much to him as winning the race would have. Ben works with and runs dogs from the kennel of Ray Redington Jr. Ray was very proud of Ben’s performance and the Humanitarian Award. For the award, Ben received a $2,000 scholarship from Lynden and the Wasilla Vet Clinic presented him with a bronze trophy in the likeness of a musher and dog fashion by sculptor, Sandy May, wife of Iditarod champion, Joe May.
Conway Seavey is the Champion of the 2014 Junior Iditarod. This is Seavey’s fourth and last Junior Iditarod. He’s now earned Iditarod gold twice. As champion, Seavey received a $6,000 scholarship from Lynden, a fur hat provided by Artic Fur & Leather as well as a sled filled with an immense amount of musher gear and equipment. Bernie Willis constructed the sled, provided by Wells Fargo. Conway praised Richard Plack for the excellent trail and the entire Junior Iditarod Board of Directors for their work in provided an exceptional mid-distance competitive mushing experience. He thanked all the volunteers and especially noted the many dedicated volunteers who return year after year.
The Junior Iditarod Board of Directors awarded the Honorary Musher position, bib #1, to five anonymous retired Wells Fargo Bankers who came to the aid of the Junior Iditarod eleven years ago when financial times were tough and provided prizes and scholarships for the Juniors.
Master of Ceremonies Bob Brandt from Lynden emphasized the roll of mentors in the success of these junior mushers and the roll these juniors will play in the future as mentors to other young mushers. Over time, the young people seated at the head table will undoubtedly be sharing their knowledge of the sport of mushing and dog care with those who are less experienced.
Congratulations to the 2014 Junior Iditarod contestants – all winners, all mentors and all worthy of being roll models for those who are getting started in the sport of mushing.