The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Terrie Hanke
Jr. Iditarod 

Junior Iditarod mushers celebrate success


Kelly Nichols | For The LOG

Ashley Guernsey, bib #9, mushes into Martin Buser's Happy Trails Kennels near Big Lake to complete her first Jr. Iditarod. Guernsey, the youngest competitor, finished seventh among nine Alaska youths who completed the round trip race course to Yentna and back.

The thrill is not in victory but in the courage to join the race. Nowhere could this be more evident than at the Junior Iditarod banquet. These young mushers dreamed one day of running dogs. Later they dreamed of camping with their dogs. Even later these juniors dreamed of racing. They dared to dream and they persevered to accomplish their dream.

Moose Pass's Ashley Guernsey crossed the finish line in 7th place. When she was just a little girl, Ashley watched "Season of the Sled Dog" a video created by Mary Shields. Shields, the first woman to finish Iditarod inspired Ashley to run dogs. As a special surprise, Ashley received a gift from Mary Shields at the banquet. Ashley was the recipient of the Blue Harness award honoring one of the great lead dogs in the race. The Blue Harness award sometimes goes to a leader of the winning team. This time however Conway Seavey nominated Ashley's lead dog, Cletus.

Ashley dropped her best and most dependable leader at Yentna Station. Before departing she looked down her line of dogs and wasn't at all certain about who to put in lead. She finally decided on one of the wheel dogs, lovable and friendly Cletus. Cletus had never run a step of lead in his whole live let alone 62 miles of a race but he'd done an admirable job of pulling the sled out and around tight corners. Cletus apparently liked the changing view from the front of the team and was very comfortable in his new job.

Cletus was not intimidated by the overflow. He was quite willing and game to follow Ashley and take the rest of the team through the water. Cletus is a Seavey dog so Conway knows what he's been doing all his life. When he saw Ashley guide her team under the finish banner, he was amazed seeing Cletus in lead. There's a lesson here – never let perception limit potential. Cletus obviously has the potential to be a great leader.

Conway Seavey, of Sterling, is the champion of the 2014 Junior Iditarod. This is Seavey's fourth and last Junior Iditarod. He's now earned Iditarod gold twice. As champion, Seavey received a $6,000 scholarship from Lynden, a fur hat provided by Artic Fur & Leather as well as a sled filled with an immense amount of musher gear and equipment. Bernie Willis constructed the sled, provided by Wells Fargo. Conway praised Richard Plack for the excellent trail and the entire Junior Iditarod Board of Directors for their work in provided an exceptional mid-distance competitive mushing experience. He thanked all the volunteers and especially noted the many dedicated volunteers who return year after year.

Joshua Klejka who placed eighth was extremely happy to have had the opportunity to run on such good trail. There's way more ice than snow around his home town of Bethel so while his dogs didn't have enough training this year to be really competitive, musher and canines enjoyed the 124-mile run immensely.

Nicole Forto earned the Red Lantern, a symbol of perseverance awarded to the final musher to cross the finish line. Each of the mushers received a pail filled with merchandise and gift certificates from race sponsors and generous area merchants. In the big picture, the greatest prize was the satisfaction of a job well done.

The Junior Iditarod board of directors awarded the Honorary Musher position, bib #1, to five anonymous retired Wells Fargo Bankers who came to the aid of the Junior Iditarod 11 years ago when financial times were tough and provided prizes and scholarships for the Juniors.

Mike Williams of Akiak and 15-year Iditarod veteran spoke to the teens. Williams told the teens they were all winners and they would grow from their experiences of mushing. Events like the Junior Iditarod would be the stepping-stones for their future. Williams promotes the importance of education. He also runs for sobriety.

Master of ceremonies Bob Brandt from Lynden emphasized the role of mentors in the success of these junior mushers and the role these juniors will play in the future as mentors to other young mushers. Over time, the young people seated at the head table will undoubtedly be sharing their knowledge of the sport of mushing and dog care with those who are less experienced.

Information, including complete race rankings, musher biographies and other Jr. Iditarod race stories can be found at The complete text of this story can be read here.

The 2014 Iditarod Mushers Drawing Banquet is set for 6 p.m. tonight at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage. The Iditarod starts in downtown Anchorage on Saturday at 10 a.m. and the Willow Lake restart is Sunday at 2 p.m.


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