Alton teen to become first NH racer in Jr. IditarodBy JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent February 02. 2018 6:17PM
Although she's modest about her chances of winning, a 15-year-old girl from Alton is nonetheless expected to make history this month when she becomes the first Granite Stater to compete in the 150-mile-long Jr. Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska.
Open to boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17, the Jr. Iditarod, which is now in its 41st year, will be run Feb. 24-25 from Wasilla to Yentna Station Roadhouse and back.
The 2018 race will feature 10 mushers, including Alton's Lara Renner.
Renner and her father, Steve, left Alton with their 12 Siberian huskies on the 5,400-mile drive to Wasilla. The Renners and the dogs that make up their Star Wars-themed Team Snowspeeder arrived Wednesday.
Steve Renner said it's "fairly rare for kids to compete from the lower 48" states in the Jr. Iditarod, and rarer still for those mushers to bring their own dogs, rather than to use locally provided teams. Most of Lara's competitors will be running Alaskan huskies, but Renner said his daughter is unique in that she'll be racing Siberians.
Both kinds of dogs are bred to pull sleds, but Alaskan huskies, according to dogbreedinfo.com, may have greater endurance. Ten of the team's 12 dogs will be used in the race.
The home-schooled Lara Renner started mushing when she was 10 and began racing in 2015 in 30-mile Can-Am races, according to her biography.
In 2017, she competed in the 100-mile class in the Can-Am race in Fort Kent, Maine, and finished fifth overall. She also had the top Siberian team and was "the top rookie, the top female finisher" and, at the age of 14, "the youngest ever to compete" in the event.
Lara hopes to study digital art in college, but, before then, she has more long-distance sled-dog racing to do, including the Jr. Iditarod, the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest.
The Renners think their trip to the Jr. Iditarod will cost about $6,000 in total, nearly half of it for gasoline. Lara has attracted a group of sponsors who are making financial or in-kind donations, among them Northern Exposure Outfitters, Inukshuk dog food, Smart ATI and Grappone Automotive.
While all the donations are appreciated, the one from Northern Exposure Outfitters of Brookfield, Mass., and Milan is particularly meaningful because not only did it come with a Danler Grand Odyss dog sled, but it also came with advice, courtesy of Bailey Cross Vitello.
Last February, Vitello, who is now 20, won a bronze medal in the eight-dog mid-distance class at the International Federation of Sleddog Sports 2017 World Championship. Five years earlier, Vitello, a Massachusetts native, raced in the 2012 Jr. Iditarod, in which he was the fastest musher to the midpoint before finishing seventh.
Vitello said that race was an eye-opener for him. After having watched Lara Renner train with her team, both he and his wife and fellow musher Brianna Holmgren were confident that Lara "has become a force to be reckoned with and that she has great success written in her future."
Lara said she would not be able to compete in the Jr. Iditarod without the Grand Odyss sled, which meets the race's specific technical requirements.
Asked about her chances, she replied that she'd be happy "to just run healthy dogs if I can. My goal is to finish with all ten of my dogs and to come home in one piece."
"I'm very optimistic because the dogs" - led by Artoo and Chewy - "seem ready to race," she said, "but since I'm running Siberians, and most people will be running Alaskans, I'm not expecting to win this, but I am expecting to finish."
For more information on the Jr. Iditarod, including profiles of the competitors and standings during the race, visit jriditarod.com.