First Mainer to compete in Junior Iditarod prepares for challenging Alaskan terrain

A Topsham teen traveled across North America this month with 13 dogs to prepare to fulfill a dream she’s had since she was a child—well, not that long ago.

Tara Crossman, 16, will become the first Mainer to compete in two of Alaska’s elite dog sled races next month: the Junior Willow 100 and the Junior Iditarod. Crossman and her dogs arrived in Alaska weeks in advance to prepare for the races and prepare for the challenging terrain.

The Mt. Ararat High School student has competed in more than 20 dog sled races in Maine and has raised more than 24 Alaskan husky puppies. He said the sport went under his radar when he was 7 years old and saw the 1994 animated film “Balto,” based on a true story of the heroic dog sled team that traveled more than 600 miles to deliver medicine to sick children in Nome. , Alaska.

“I had this feeling of freedom while watching it and I knew I wanted to experience dog sledding at least once in my life,” Crossman said. “However, I never thought it would get to this point.”

During Junior Willow, you’ll compete against nine other teens ages 14-17 in a 100-mile race through the Alaskan wilderness, with a 10-hour break at the 50-mile mark. Her second race, the Junior Iditarod, is a 150-mile race with 15 teenagers competing for a $6,000 scholarship and bragging rights. Mushers will have a chance to rest overnight at the 75 mile mark.

The longest race Crossman has completed to date is 35 miles, but he said he’s not intimidated by the races ahead.

While the Junior Iditarod is the more famous and longer race of the two, Crossman said the Junior Willow 100 will be the more difficult because “it’s just hills.”

Tara Crossman’s sled dog team. Photos contributed by Tara Crossman

Some of your competitors will have home field advantage, living in or near Alaska, with knowledge of the trails, weather, and a shorter distance to travel to the competition. Last week, Crossman drove her pups 4,600 miles from her, giving her and her team time to acclimate to the daunting terrain.

She said the trip went better than planned, the only setback being a flat tire on her trailer.

Crossman arrived in Alaska on January 16 and has been running with her dogs between remote school assignments.

With this being her first trip to Alaska, Crossman said she wasn’t sure what or who to expect to see on the practice trails.

“You go from climbing hills in the woods to being in a swamp,” he said. “It’s also strange to see other dog teams.”

Alaska is known for its harsh winters, but Crossman said it’s been fairly mild, with highs in the 45s. Temperatures are expected to hit a high of 13°F and a low of -8°F during the Junior Willow 100 and a high of 35°F and a low of -4°F during the Junior Iditarod, according to

Crossman will compete in the Junior Willow 100 on February 10-11 and the Junior Iditarod on February 25-26.

Tara Crossman runs her dogs in Willow, Alaska, in preparation for her upcoming races.

Crossman sled dogs run through high snow.

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