Eye on the Jr: Meet the Mushers Pt. 4

There’s a tremendous amount of planning and preparation that goes into any sled dog race.  Race organizers have been putting in many hours to make the Jr. Iditarod the race kids beg their parents to run.  Yes, there’s some snow in the forecast but Richard Plack and his trail crew are guaranteed to have the trail in the best possible condition.  Prizes have been gathered, trophies ordered, the banquet program is printed and a small army of volunteers are ready, willing and able to do anything and everything that needs to be done. 

The mushers and their canine athletes have been training since fall.  They’ve put on miles to condition their dogs and they’ve trained by doing camp outs and other area races.  They’ve prepared their drop bags and have all the required gear organized and ready to go.  These kids are amazing and are very skilled at camping, sled driving and dog care.

Of the mushers you’ll meet in this story, two are eligible to return again next year to the Jr. Iditarod as they are 16 years of age and two will say goodbye to Jr. racing as they have turned 17.

Bristol Huffman attended the Kobuk 440 as a spectator 4 years ago.  It was a life changing experience and here she is today as a third year veteran in the Jr Iditarod.  She began her mushing career by helping local mushers and training with Kotzebue musher, Dempsey Woods, Jr.  For the 2024 Jr. Iditarod, she’ll be racing dogs from Paul and Kevin Hanson’s kennel.  Huffman, age 16, finished 12th in the 2022 Jr. Iditarod Stage Race, 8th in the 2023 Jr. Iditarod.  She’s also run the Kobuk 440 and the KDMA Women’s sprint race.  She says she decided to take up the sport of mushing because she likes to work and she likes to work with dogs.  Bristol enjoys running, fishing, hunting, trapping and swimming.  She’s a junior at Kotzebue High School.  While she hasn’t chosen a career path as of yet, she’d like to go to college and then establish her own kennel someday.   

Teitje Pavaglio is back for a third Jr. Iditarod race.  In 2022 she finished in 11th then in 2023 she improved to 7th place.  Family friends invited Teitje and her father for a ride on the runners.  From that experience they knew they wanted to spend time with dogs.  Teitje started racing in 2021 along with her father who is now an Iditarod Veteran.  Tietje is also a veteran of the Willow 100.  As a junior at Chugiak High School in Eagle River, she is pursuing certification as a Veterinary Technician.   She enjoys working with sled dogs in the tourism industry.  In the future she hopes to run dogs recreationally and for tourism.  Teitje recently finished the Jr. Willow 100 in 7th place.

Hanna Wappett of Fairbanks is back for her third and final Jr. Iditarod.  She is 17 years old and is a senior at Lathrup High School.  In her previous races she claimed 4th in 2021 and was honored as the rookie of the year then in 2022 she achieved 2nd place.  Wappett began mushing with her parents and siblings when she was just five years old.  Older brother, Chandler, is also a Jr. Iditarod veteran.  Hanna is a veteran of several sprint and several Willow 100 races as well as the Quest 80 and Solstice 50 where she was 1st in the junior class.  The Wappett family has raised and trained several litters of husky puppies.  Wappett is an avid soccer, tennis and badminton player.  Upon graduation, she intends to continue mushing. Her career path may take her into hair styling or veterinary medicine.

James Shawcroft of Fairbanks is back for his fourth and final Jr. Iditarod.  He is  17 year old and a senior at Lathrop High School.  In his rookie race in 2021 he placed 8th and was honored with the Sportsmanship award.  Thereafter in 2022 he earned 10th place and in 2023 14th place along with the Red Lantern.  The Shawcroft family was introduced to mushing by neighbors and soon they began their own kennel.  James is running the same team he’s run in his past races which is the same team his sister raced with in 2017.  These dogs know the way to Yentna Station!  James is a seasoned racer with 5 Willow 100s, 3 Jr. Iditarods and a Yukon 80 under his belt.  James is the captain of  his Cross-Country team and he enjoys drone aerial photography and snow machining.  James would like to attend flight school then secure his pilot’s license and become an aerospace engineer.  Recently in the Jr. Willow 100, James claimed eleventh place and received the Dr. Susan Winton Humanitarian Award as well as the Sportsmanship Award.