Tara Crossman races in the Junior Iditarod on Feb. 25. Julia Redington photo

A Topsham teen made history last month when she became the first Mainer to compete in a pair of elite Alaskan dog sled races, bringing home a sportsmanship award for helping two fellow mushers in crisis.

Tara Crossman, 17, has competed in over 20 dogsled races throughout Maine. Last month, she and 13 of her dogs traveled across North America to compete in the Willow Jr. 100 (a 100-mile dog sled race) and the Junior Iditarod (a 150-mile race) through the Alaskan wilderness.

On Feb. 15, Crossman raced in the Willow Jr. against nine other teens aged 14-17 and finished in eighth place. She said it was the harder of the two races because the terrain was “mostly hills.”

“I know, personally, I never feel fully prepared when it comes to races,” Crossman said. “I always feel like there is more I could have and should have done to prepare. I think the other kids would agree that you never truly feel 100% ready.”

On Feb. 25, she competed in the Junior Iditarod against 15 other teen mushers, each vying for a $6,000 scholarship and bragging rights — Crossman came in ninth place. She might have placed higher had she not stopped to lend a hand to two fellow competitors who lost their way. This earned her the sportsmanship award.

Crossman said she didn’t think twice about sacrificing time when she saw a competitor take a wrong turn. After leading her own team the right way and locking in her snow hooks, Crossman flagged down the other team to set them on the right path.


“The most challenging part of running longer races is the mental aspect,” Crossman said. “When you are out there for hours you sometimes start to second-guess yourself, you start thinking you aren’t moving fast enough.”

This was not the only selfless move Crossman made during the race.

“The last 4-5 miles, a friend of mine’s team was stopped because her lead dog had never single-led before, so she was confused about what to do,” Crossman said. “I passed her and called her leader towards me, and I did that the entire way to the finish. I had to stand on my brake to keep my team slow enough so we wouldn’t lose them.”

Crossman said there are many risks when competing in these races, including inclement weather and encounters with wildlife. She said her team came across three large moose.

“Luckily, none of them were aggressive, and they ran away from my team instead of charging into them,” she said.

Crossman said it was never about winning the races but about achieving a lifelong goal alongside her peers. She said she is proud of herself and her dogs.

“Getting to spend time and race against strictly other junior mushers was amazing,” she said. “But being out on the trails with my dogs is always the highlight of every run.”

The Mt. Ararat High School junior said she had dreamed of becoming a competitive musher for over a decade. The sport came across her radar when she was 7 and watched the 1994 animated film “Balto,” which is based on a true story of the heroic dogsled team that covered over 600 miles to deliver medicine to sick children in Nome, Alaska.

Crossman will turn 18 next year and become ineligible for the junior races but said she is undecided about pursuing the traditional Iditarod for adults.

Tara Crossman with one of her lead dogs, Tuba. Photo contributed by Tara Crossman

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