Alaska mushers drive 2000 miles to compete in Arctic Winter Games
At 13-years old, Johanna Badalich is only old enough to drive a dog team. That means her dad, Paul Badalich, took the wheel for their haul from Anchorage, Alaska, to Hay River, Canada, for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games.
The 2000-mile trip took them three days.
“You have to drop dogs every two hours to make sure they don’t pee or poop in their boxes, so it took a lot longer than if we were just doing a family road trip,” Johanna explained.
Johanna picked up the sport when she was 7. She doesn’t come from a mushing family. Her mom is a doctor; her dad is a captain with the Anchorage Fire Department.
"He’s an awesome parent. When I decided to be a dog musher he 100 percent supported me and got eight dogs and here I am,” she said.
Johanna’s mom, Jane Heisel, said they’re proud of their daughter.
"We went to some trouble to get here, but it’s worthwhile for her to see the exposure as it’s being shared across similar cultural environments," Heisel said. "Getting to share our local traditions together like this is an opportunity we thought was worthwhile.”
The journey through Canada was worth it for Johanna, so she can meet and learn from other mushers. But there aren’t many competitors this year.
Alaska and the Northwest Territories are the only two of the nine contingents mushing. Yukon and Nunavut were listed but race officials said they dropped out at the last minute.
Athletes fear the sport might be in jeopardy at the Arctic Winter Games because of the work it takes to get dog teams to the starting line.
"It seems like taking it out would be like forgetting a part of what makes the northern cultures us,” Johanna said.
With only three people in her field, Johanna had a good chance of taking home some hardware and ended up in first place for the 7.5-kilometer juvenile race.
"I don’t want to gloat about it but I’m really proud of my dogs,” she said humbly.
Jamo Morris from Fairbanks took third in that same race. Zachary Maruskie from Anchorage placed third in the junior's 10-kilometer race.
For Johanna and her fellow Alaska mushers, being at the Arctic Winter Games means representing the Last Frontier on an international level while they still can.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.
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