Behind 10 dogs, a 16-year-old from Clarkson, N.Y., defeated a mob of Alaska-hardened teenagers to capture the Jr. Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Sunday.
Although Noah Pereira is a junior soccer player at Brockport High School in New York, consider him a sometimes Alaskan. He's been working with Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey the past two years in anticipation of running the Jr. Iditarod. When he crossed the finish line at 11:32 a.m. Sunday, Pereira won $4,000 in scholarship money for college and bragging rights at the Seavey dinner table. Finishing second, four minutes behind, was Dallas' younger brother, Conway. Jenny Greger was third.
But Pereira should contain his enthusiasm for winning the championship. Capturing a Jr. Iditarod title doesn't guarantee future mushing success. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. A Jr. Iditarod champion has never gone on to win the big race after reaching age 18 -- even though the fields are routinely sprinkled with names that make up the pantheon of long-distance mushing in Alaska -- Seavey, Redington, Mackey, Buser, King, Osmar and others.
In four Jr. Iditarod races between 2002 and 2005, for instance, defending Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey could never win -- though he was second twice, once behind Nicole Osmar and once behind Ellie Claus.
Similarly, four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey could never break though in several attempts to win the Jr. Iditarod.
In fact, the only person to win the Jr. Iditarod and then capture a rugged race along the Iditarod Trail through the frozen heart of Alaska is Dusty VanMeter, and he had to switch sports to do so.
VanMeter, of Kasilof on the Kenai Peninsula, won the 1987 Jr. Iditarod, easily handling Jason and Lance Mackey, who were fifth and sixth respectively. On Saturday, VanMeter, now 43, captured his fifth Iron Dog title, teaming with partner Marc McKenna to drive a pair of Ski-Doo snowmachines some 2,000 miles from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks in 36 hours, 59 minutes.
This year's Jr. Iditarod runner-up, Conway Seavey, was the defending champion, but his days in the sport may be coming to an end.
"My main goal is to become a professional singer/songwriter," he said on the Iditarod website. "I currently do gigs around Alaska. I sang at the 2012 Iditarod Awards banquet in Nome. I want to live in Alaska at least part time, but don't plan to continue mushing, at least not professionally."
The Jr. Iditarod began in 1978. This year's race started in Wasilla on Saturday, proceeding along the Iditarod Trail to the Yentna Station Roadhouse before looping back and ending in Willow.
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