A Topsham teenager traveled across North America this month with 13 dogs to prepare to act on a dream she has had since the she was a kid — OK, so not that long ago.

Tara Crossman, 16, will become the first Mainer to compete in two elite Alaskan 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 brace for the challenging terrain.

The Mt. Ararat High School student has competed in over 20 dogsled races throughout Maine and raised over 24 Alaskan husky pups. She said the sport came across her radar when she was 7 and watched the 1994 animated film “Balto” — based on a true story of the heroic dogsled team that covered over 600 miles to deliver medicine to sick children in Nome, Alaska.

“I just got this feeling of freedom while watching it and knew I wanted to experience dogsledding at least once in my life,” Crossman said. “I never thought it would get to this point though.”

During the Junior Willow, she will 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 teens competing for a $6,000 scholarship and bragging rights. Mushers will have the chance to rest overnight at the 75-mile mark.

The longest race Crossman has completed to date is 35 miles, but she said she remains undeterred by the races that lie ahead.


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

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

Some of her competitors will have a homecourt 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, giving her and her team time to acclimate to the daunting terrain.

She said the trip went better than anticipated, with the only setback being a flat tire on their trailer.

Crossman arrived in Alaska on Jan. 16 and has been running her dogs in between remote schoolwork.

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,” she said. “It’s also weird seeing other dog teams.”

Alaska is known for its harsh winters, but Crossman said it has been rather mild, with a high of 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures are expected to reach 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 accuweather.com.

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

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

Crossman’s sled dogs run through high snow.

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