2023 Rookies

by Terrie Hanke

February 21, 2023

Kids come to mushing through many different trails.  Sometimes it’s a family affair and other times it’s purely coincidence.  Whatever brought them to dogs, these are dedicated conscientious young people who have worked extremely hard at becoming good at driving sleds, camping in the winter and caring for their beloved athletes.  Meet the seven rookies in the class of 2023 through these brief biographies.


Nelson Wappet from Fairbanks carries on a Jr. Iditarod family tradition started in 2016 by older brother Chandler.  Chandler ran for three years then was followed in 2021 by Hannah who competed in 2021 and ‘22.  The Wappet family has raised and trained several litters of husky pups that have been the basis of the Jr. Iditarod teams for Nelson, Hannah and Chandler.

The freshman at Lathrop High School says his first memories of mushing go back to when he was just three years old.  Nelson is passionate about mushing, soccer, weight lifting, pack rafting and hunting.  While this is his rookie Jr. Iditarod, he‘s no stranger to mushing events.  He’s a two year veteran of the Jr. Willow 100. While graduation is away off, he has plans – serve a mission with his church, attend college and continue to run sled dogs.


Leif Anderson also from Fairbanks grew up around dogs.  His parents, Gwen Holdmann and Ken Anderson are both Iditarod and Yukon Quest veterans.  As a freshman at Lathrop High, Leif plays varsity tennis and participates in Academic Decathlon.   Leif loves summer and winter outdoor activities and has been on many winter camping expeditions in the Brooks Range and Alaska Range.  He also enjoys computer programming, chess and math.  His first major race was the 2022 Alpine Creek Excursion Race where he won the Junior Division.  Leif and his two sisters share a kennel of 17 dogs with their Mom.   After graduating high school he plans to attend UAF seeking a degree in Computer Science. 


Tara Crossman has a passion for four-legged athletes!  Not only is she a sled dog enthusiast but she also enjoys horses.  Her love for mushing was born watching the movie Balto.  At the age of nine, she acquired her first sled dog and took to running and racing a one dog team.  Her love for  the sport grew and so did her kennel that’s located in Topsham, Maine.  The high school junior has completed several 20 – 35 mile races in previous years  and is now heading to Willow to train for and run the Willow 100 and the Jr. Iditarod.  This is no small feat!  Tara, her dogs and her human support crew will have to cover nearly 4,900 miles by truck.  Topsham is about as far east as you can go in the lower 48 and Willow is about 1,000 miles inland from Nome.  Really, this trip is a lesson in geography and economics  waiting to happen!  Upon completing high school Tara plans to move to Alaska to grow her kennel and continue racing.  Tara currently supports her mushing by working as a vet assistant.  She’s dedicating this race to recently deceased Gilly, a dog who has been a major contributor to the Catch Me If You Can team.  Crossman finished in 8th place for the 2023 Willow Jr 100.


Keira Irish, like Nelson and Leif, is a freshman at Lathrup High School in Fairbanks.  A dog powered sled-less sport, skijoring, brought her to mushing.  While this is her first season of sled racing, she has previously raced in skijoring events.  Along with mushing and skijoring Keira plays football, has a black belt and expresses her artistic talents through painting.  She looks forward to attending college in Alaska and wants to include dogs in her future sporting life.


Isaac Redington has family ties to Iditarod and Jr. Iditarod that go WAY back.  He’s a 4th generation musher. Isaac’s great-grandfather, Joe Redington, Sr., dreamed of bringing both the sled dog and the Iditarod Trail that serviced the gold mining camps of the early 1900’s back to life.  A long distance sled dog race that used the trail was his answer.  Issacs’s grandfathers on both sides of the family are Iditarod finishers then add a couple of great uncles, his father and two of his father’s brothers.  The total combined races for previous generations of the Flodin and Redington families is 67.  Isaac’s Jr. Iditarod family tree includes his parents Julia (Flodin) and Ray Redington, his grandmother Barb Redington and several uncles on both sides of the family.  Uncle Dan Flodin earned Jr. Iditarod gold in 1988 and uncle Ryan Redington captured Jr. gold in 1999 and 2000.  Isaac’s parents met during the 1991 Jr. Iditarod.  Ellen, Isaac’s older sister, is also a Jr. Iditarod veteran and will run the 2023 race.  There’s no lack of mushing mentors for Isaac!  As an 8th grader at Redington Jr/Sr High located in the Knik area, Isaac enjoys hunting, fishing and trapping.  He’s a veteran of the Jr. Willow 100. 


Lacy Kuehl from Sarasota, Florida came to mushing in a very unique way – The Alaska Raceway Park.  She came to Palmer, Alaska during the summer of 2022 to race legend cars but the event was rained out.  Making good use of disappointment, she instead went dryland mushing with Nicolas Petit.  Lacy loves race cars but after the ride with Petit, she was captivated by the amazing sled dog.  Petit along with Scott Janssen offered her a team for the 2023 Jr. Iditarod and she accepted the offer.  As you might imaging, a person from Florida hasn’t experienced snow or cold but Lacy is very excited for the new challenge in life.  Beginning in January, she’ll spend 6 weeks in Alaska getting to know the sport, honing her camping skills and bonding with her team.  As a driver, be it race car or sled, Lacy works to spread awareness for diabetes.  Her family founded Drive for Diabetes Awareness after her infant brother was mis-diagnosed with a virus and succumbed to diabetic ketoacidosis.  Kuehl says, “Education is knowledge and knowledge is the power to save lives. Know the early warning signs of diabetes.  Check Don’t Guess!  It might not be the flu!”  Welcome to Alaska and the sport of mushing!


Now that Jordon Bishop, age 17, is living in Alaska, he can finally  realize his childhood dream of mushing! After moving to the last Frontier, Jordan visited Tailwind Kennels in Knik with a friend.  He loved the dogs and kennel life and is now working and training with Jessica and Sam!  He’s ready for his first race and will take a team of Tailwind dogs from Knik to Yentna Station and back!  He’s been well schooled in the care of dogs, winter camping and driving a dog team.  Jordan likes hiking, skiing and working out at the gym.  After graduating from high school, Jordan hopes to travel and continue working with dogs.              


Check back soon to meet the veterans participating in the 2023 Jr. Iditarod.