2006 Jr. Iditarod WinnerBy Genet Berhane
February 25, 2006—The third time’s a charm for Micah T. Degerlund. After competing in the Junior Iditarod in 2004 and 2005, Micah is now the 2006 Jr. Iditarod champion. The 17-year-old Fairbanks, Alaska, native completed the dogsled race in 22 hours, 59 minutes—winning by just five minutes.
“It feels pretty good,” Micah said after the race. “I’ve been close before, but I haven’t won.”
The Jr. Iditarod is an annual 140-mile race that attracts the country’s top 14- to 17-year-olds mushers, travelers that drive with sled dog teams. It is held in Alaska a week before the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The Jr. Iditarod, which began in 1978, is the first distance race created for young mushers. Altogether, 10 girls and 13 boys made up the 23 teams competing in this year’s Jr. Iditarod. Scholarships totaling about $13,000 were awarded to the top five finishers in the race.
Finishing close behind Micah in the race was 16-year-old Rohn Buser, competing in his third Jr. Iditarod, and 14-year-old rookie Ellen King. These two teens are no strangers to the world of mushing. They are the son and daughter of Iditarod champions Martin Buser and Jeff King.
“[It] was so much fun,” said Ellen King. “There were a lot of people on the trail, a lot of passing involved . . . It was all very exciting and new to me."
Leading up to this year’s competition, many eyes were on Melissa Owens, the winner of last year’s race. With the title of Jr. Iditarod champion already under her belt, Melissa was attempting to become the sixth young musher ever to win the race more than once. However, the former winner had to settle for a fifth-place finish.
Lucky Number Three
Micah finished in sixth place in his first Jr. Iditarod race, in 2004. In 2005, he took fourth place. As the 2006 Junior winner, Micah will have the honor of leading this year’s Iditarod teams out of Anchorage at the start of the race on March 4. He will also have a special guest traveling with him—an Idita-Rider. The Idita-Rider program gives fans a chance to bid on a ride with a musher for the first 11 miles of the Iditarod.
Micah has spent the past six years handling sled dogs for musher Ray Reddington Jr. Some of the dogs on Micah’s winning team will be running for mushers in this year’s Iditarod. Mushers must be at least 18 years old to compete in the Iditarod. Many of the young mushers that have raced in the Jr. Iditarod go on to compete in the great race in later years. Keep an eye out in 2007, when Micah will be eligible to compete in the Iditarod.