By Karen Fanning

Tuesday, February 22—With less than a week to go until race time, Mallory Smyth admits to having a mild case of pre-race jitters. But the Jr. Iditarod rookie doesn’t have to go very far for some words of wisdom.

“I come from a family of mushers,” says the 17-year-old from Houston, Alaska. “Five [of my siblings] have run the Jr. Iditarod. Two of them, Cim and Ramey, won it several times.”

The Jr. Iditarod begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 26. Mallory hopes to join his older brothers in the winner’s circle by taking this year’s race, which attracts the country’s top 14- to 17-year-olds mushers. But he insists he would be happy with a top four finish in the 160-mile race. His sister, Mariah, who is also running her first Jr. Iditarod, has a more modest goal. She says she would be pleased to finish in the top 10.

If he is to win, Mallory will have to overcome his lack of experience—the Jr. Iditarod is his first race ever. In fact, he is among the more inexperienced members of his team. Half of his dogs have run the Iditarod.

Coming from a large family, Mariah worries that she may get lonely on the trail. But her biggest concern is keeping her dogs healthy.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” says the 17-year-old. “You’re responsible for the dogs. It’s like having a toddler NFL team. It’s like being the coach of a team that can’t talk to you. They could get hurt anytime, but they can’t tell you. I wouldn’t want to run them when they’re injured.”

Both Smyths have been training for the Jr. Iditarod at least five days a week since October. Mallory feels confident that all that hard work will pay off, and come race day, any butterflies he might have will disappear when his adrenaline kicks in.

“Once the race starts, I won’t be nervous anymore,” he says. “Then, it will be fun.”