Bethel Musher Wins Junior Iditarod
Seventeen year old
The Junior Iditarod is a 150-mile sled dog race for young mushers between the ages of 14 and 17 years old. It is held each year on the weekend before the start of the Iditarod and follows the first portion of the Iditarod trail, starting at
This was Jessica’s fourth Jr. Iditarod. Last year she finished third. She has also run
A senior at
This year’s Jr. Iditarod had a field of 21 mushers and dog teams, and included some well known names in mushing circles. Two of her competitors were Quinn Iten, son of Iditarod musher and 2004 K300 champ Ed Iten; and Patrick Mackey, grandson of Iditarod legend Dick Mackey and nephew of Lance Mackey, winner of both the 2007 Iditarod and Yukon Quest (first musher ever to win both races in the same year) and this year’s Quest.
Last night Dutch and I went to the high school students’ production of Little Shop of Horrors, where we ran into Jessica’s mom, Jackie, and most of her brothers and sisters; her sister Jenny (all seven kids have names that begin with “J”!) had one of the leading roles, and did a great job. Jackie excitedly told us that Jessica was in the lead at that point, waiting out the 10-hour mandatory rest at the halfway point. She would be clear to leave at 2 a.m. She arrived at the checkpoint four minutes ahead of Patrick Mackey. That is a pretty small lead to start the 75 miles to the Finish Line. Jackie said the report was that her dogs were looking great, and that she was “smokin’ the trail” on the way out (musher lingo for going really fast).
This victory is especially meaningful for Jessica, as it comes after a year that has been challenging for her. Last summer she lost her best pal and main lead dog. The family had decided to breed her when she came into heat, and the pregnancy went well until the very end. Just as she was due to deliver the pups, she apparently threw a blood clot and died almost instantly. Jessica saw it happen and yelled for help.
She was able to acquire a new leader, and began training hard in the fall. Our front window faces the trail she takes out of town, and Dutch and I watched her going out almost every day, regardless of the weather. Often one of her younger siblings would be riding in the sled, or following on a snowmachine. Joe and Jackie and most of the kids are involved in mushing, and all of them love it. Mushing is a Klejka family affair.
As winner of the 2008 Junior Iditarod, Jessica takes home a prize of $5,000. That will be a welcome addition to her college fund. And on the horizon? Who knows, maybe one day she will win the Iditarod.
Labels: Dog Mushing