May 28, 2024

Eye on the Trail: Meet the Jr. Iditarod Mushers

Anna Stephan 2018 Jr. Iditarod Start on Knik Lake

Eight teenage mushers make up the field for the 2019 Jr. Iditarod.  More rookies than veterans and more girls than boys.  The race welcomes its first competitor from Sweden.  The elite eight will run a 150-mile course from Knik Lake to the Yentna Station Roadhouse then finish at the Willow Community Center.  This year marks the 42nd Jr. Iditarod.

Anna Stephan, age 17, is returning to the Jr. Iditarod for her third run.  Anna is a home-schooled sophomore who lives in Wasilla, AK. Outside of school, she enjoys running, soccer and playing the violin.  She’s been mushing for eight years.  Her father owned dogs and got his daughters involved in the sport.  Congratulations to Anna on winning the 2019 Willow JR 100.

Ida Kohnert, age 14, from Sweden is only the 5thinternational Jr. Iditarod contestant. Previous international mushers have lived in Canada and Czechoslovakia.  Ida, a rookie, has been running dogs for 4 years.  She attends eighth grade.  For hobbies she likes to be out in nature hunting and fishing.  Ida has handled for her father for the Yukon Quest in 2016, 17 and 18.  Ida says she really likes the connection between dogs and musher and to be out in nature with her best friends is the best thing in the world.  Her dream is to run the Yukon Quest in 2023.

Also from Wasilla is rookie, Bjorn Keller.  Bjorn who is now 14, began riding on a dog sled at six weeks old in his grandmother’s arms.  He grew up in the bush near McCarthy on a subsistence farm with goats, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks and dogs.  Bjorn is home schooled and plays Little League Baseball and also competes in Magic: the Gathering Tournaments.

Anna Coke completes the trio of rookie mushers from Wasilla.  Anna is a home-schooled freshman who has always felt called to mush.  She started mushing in 2018 because she loves being on adventures.  Beyond spending time with her dogs, her hobbies are photography, violin, hiking, skiing and leading worship in her youth group.  Anna says her parents have always supported her mushing dream and she’s grateful to Jessica Klejka and Sam Brewer for helping make her Jr. Iditarod dream come true.  Congrats to Anna on her fourth place finish in the Willow JR 100.

Grace Hill, age 17, started mushing a couple of years ago with her very energetics St. Bernard pups. She’s a graduate of the Galena School District Home School program.  Grace’s very first race was the Willow JR 100 where she placed 5th.  Grace lives off the grid in Willow.  In the future she hopes to have a career in the Navy either as a nuclear engineer or an electrician.

Sierra Bobby, age 15, lives in Lime Village, AK.  She is home schooled and is in the 9th grade.  She credits her love and knowledge of mushing to her Grandpa. When he came to Alaska, his main means of transportation was dog team.  Sierra appreciates the history and importance of the sled dog and hopes to bring mushing back to the other kids in the village.  Sierra appreciates the incredible beauty nature provides and enjoys sewing, crocheting, drawing and reading.  Upon graduation, Sierra is looking forward to a career in law enforcement. Sierra recently completed the Willow JR 100 in 7th place and received the Sportsmanship Award.

Johanna Badalich is 14 years old and lives in Anchorage.  Her first mushing experience came at the age of 4 when she harnessed the house pets and used a kick sled.  Sprint racing was soon to follow.  Johanna has won the Jr. ASDRA World Championships twice.  In 2018 she attended the Arctic Winter Games in Hay River NWT, Canada and achieved 3 gold ulus for Team Alaska.  After spend a few weeks last summer working at Husky Homestead, Johanna became interested in distance mushing.  As a musher, Johanna says the well being of her dogs is her top priority.  She finished the Willow JR 100 in 9th place and was chosen by race officials to receive the Skeeter Award.

Cassidy Meyer, age 15, of Fairbanks, Alaska says she was born into mushing.  Her family uses dogs for their main transportation between cabins and camping place.  The also enjoy going into the Brooks Range to hunt caribou while relying on their dogs for transportation.  As a freshman at Valley West High School, she enjoys rock climbing, aerial silks, camping and other outdoor activities.  She hopes to become a veterinarian.  Cassidy claimed 6th place in the recent Willow JR 100.