Tara Crossman, 16, is one of the youngest people competing in this year’s Can-Am sled dog races in Fort Kent. She’s also fundraising to race in Alaska next year.
TOPSHAM, Maine — Most journeys start with a single step. For Tara Crossman, her journey began with a single dog.
“I did a lot of races with my one dog,” she said.
The Topsham 16-year-old started sled dog racing in March 2015, competing in small, single-dog events. Now, seven years later, she has 15 dogs in her kennel, and her sights are set on two races in Alaska next season: the Willow Junior 100 and the 150-mile Junior Iditarod.
First, though, she’ll be finishing out this season with this weekend’s 30-mile Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race in Fort Kent.
Tara and her team competed in the 2020 Can-Am, but then the pandemic led to many races in 2021, including the Can-Am. Tara Crossman’s mother, Andrea Crossman, said the frustration of missing out on last season’s events fueled her daughter’s drive to go to Alaska.
“… COVID hit and put a wrench in everything for the 2020/2021 season. It really kind of fueled the fire of wanting to go to do the Jr. Iditarod and Willow Jr. 100 because you realize there’s only so much time, and we just lost all of the last season,” Andrea Crossman told NEWS CENTER Maine via text. “It’s kind of a now or never thing, so we must go!”
“Those [races] have kind of been goals of mine since I got started. But I never thought I’d actually get there. It was just kind of like, ‘That would be really cool to do,’ but I kind of just put it on the backburner,” Tara Crossman said. “But the more dogs I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that it’s actually something that I really want to do and something that I could actually do.”
RELATED: Maine filmmaker debuts’ True North Legends of Dogs and Men’ following solo sled dog expedition
Getting herself and her dogs across the country won’t be cheap, which is why Tara Crossman has a variety of fundraising efforts underway to help pay for the trip. In addition to a GoFundMe, she’s spread donation jars around her community and has been organizing meet-and-greets where people can meet her and her team and donate money if they wish.
“People can come up to me, ask questions, meet some of the dogs, and just kind of get to know me as a person,” Tara Crossman said. “That tends to help because some people, they’re like, ‘Ok? Random kid just wants my money. I don’t know who she is or what she does.’ But that usually changes when people actually meet me and my dogs.”
Meeting Tara Crossman’s dogs means meeting a hodgepodge group of Alaskan Huskies that she’s acquired over the years, many from older, adult mushers who no longer wanted or needed them.
“Most of my dogs have been hand-me-downs. ‘This dog doesn’t work for my team, so I’ll give it to this kid so she can try to figure out how to make this team work,'” she explained.
They range in age, shape, color, and size, but Tara said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I have a couple with patches, one with stripes, all different looking things,” she said with a smile. “When people see me, they go, ‘Well, that’s quite the motley crew,’ and I go, ‘Yeah, but we’re gonna beat you.’ They’re all a little different, all have their little quirks and ins and outs, but they’re really good dogs.”
Tara Crossman will be racing with a six-dog team this weekend, and she’ll bring a couple of extra pups in case any of her dogs have medical issues before their race starts.
This weekend’s Can-Am races are free for spectators. For information from organizers on good viewing areas, click here.
To donate to Tara’s GoFundMe for Alaska, click here.