By Susan Spisak
Seventeen-year-old Tara Crossman is driven by her love of mushing. This dedication took her from Topsham and her Can Ya Catch Me Kennel all the way to Alaska’s Willow Jr. 100 and the Jr. Iditarod sled dog races held in February. Tara is humble about competing in these difficult competitions. When asked about them, she said, “They were two different races that were equally enjoyable, and they were both nice.”
She had impressive rookie showings—she finished 8th in the challenging Willow Jr. 100. As far as the prestigious Junior Iditarod, she placed 9th and was voted by her peers as the recipient of the coveted Sportsmanship Award for being helpful to another musher on the trail, as well as the most flexible and adaptable to change. Tara received a $2,000 scholarship for this award.
Her interest in the sport dates back to grade school when she saw Balto, a movie about the Siberian Husky relay team who transported diphtheria antitoxin to save the children of Nome, Alaska in 1925. Shortly thereafter, she had her first sled dog and was mushing away. She ran her first race at age 10 and didn’t stop.
This devoted animal lover not only grew her kennel but honed her expertise in the sport. Hardworking and determined, she’s been working as a vet tech for 2+ years and provides much of the care for her 26 Alaskan huskies. To raise necessary racing funds, she utilizes GoFundMe, Venmo, PayPal, community donation jars, and sells related merchandise.
Tara has competed in many races such as Ft. Kent’s 30-mile Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race. Her honors include the 2018 Leonhard Seppala Award from The Maine Highlands Sled Dog Club. Their nomination letter stated, “She portrays one of the best images of mushing we all wish to emulate.”
To prepare for the February races, Tara and her team of dogs trucked from Maine through the states and Canada before landing in Willow, Alaska on January 17th. Tara’s mom, Andrea Hoskins, joined her on the trip and shared that they stopped along the way to pick up four new dogs for her kennel. “[They’re] a variety of younger, distance bred dogs, as a lot of her original dogs are retiring from racing.” Once Tara was settled in Willow, she began intense training. During this time, she kept up with her Mt. Ararat High School studies remotely.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CAN YA CATCH ME KENNEL.
The Willow Jr. 100 ran on February 10th and 11th. The guidelines were strict and required each musher to have proper training and experience. This included being able to care for and camp with their team at the halfway point. Mushers had to endure the elements and were provided a list of preferred clothing and camp equipment to ensure a safe experience. Parents were allowed to stop for a visit, but had to leave the camp by 11 pm, and cell phones were prohibited.
On Saturday February 25th the two-day 150-mile Jr. Iditarod sled dog race, designed for teens 14 through 17, began with 16 mushers, the largest field in over a decade. The starting line was at Knik Lake in Wasilla. The competitors traveled roughly 75 miles to Yentna Station Roadhouse where they had a 10-hour layover. They were able to relax around a fire, then camped by a nearby river’s shore. Come Sunday morn they mushed back via the same route, all hoping to be the first to cross the finish line. While Tara wasn’t declared the winner, she gained much respect from fellow mushers on the course, something many believe to be far more significant.
The participants gathered for a celebratory banquet Sunday night, and despite the fact that there weren’t cash prizes, all were awarded educational sponsorships by the nonprofit Jr. Iditarod and their sponsors. As already mentioned, but worth a repeat, Tara won the $2,000 Sportsmanship Award, and she said she was honored to win.
Race officials and veterinarians praised the youth for their mushing, camping, and dog care skills. When Tara was given an opportunity to speak at the banquet, she was short and sweet. She thanked her parents, adding it was quite a journey to the race, but definitely worth it.
Tara has made her family, friends, and support system proud, and she’s thankful to all who stood behind her on this adventure. Every year this kind gal develops with perseverance and grit. Make no mistake this sport is in her blood. Andrea said of Tara’s future, “She plans to move to Alaska once she graduates. Her goal is to make money while working with her dogs, maybe doing tours, and also photography and other art.” Keep an eye on her. Tara said she’s open to the idea of competing in the 2024 “adult” Iditarod.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CAN YA CATCH ME KENNEL.