Seward High School junior Sam Paperman finished his first Mid-Distance dogsled race on Feb. 8, the Willow Junior 100 Sled Dog Race. The race attracted 12 mushers, aged 12 to 17. Sixteen-year-old Paperman finished seventh in the two-day race. Paperman’s final time to mush the 100 miles was 11 hours, 58 minutes. 

Paperman represented Turning Heads Kennels, based in Seward on Exit Glacier Road – where he has worked as a dog handler during the summer tourist season since 2018. Iditarod veterans Travis Beals and Sarah Stokey have been mentoring and teaching Sam about mushing and he has been training seriously since the fall of 2019 for this race. Turning Heads provided his 10 sled dogs and most of the equipment, and Dog Sled Systems & the Schlosser Family of Willow allowed Sam to use a racing sled and bag for the race.

Paperman said during an interview following the race that he was excited that he was able to complete his first race. The longest run Paperman had previously completed was a 70-mile one day run.

He said it was different participating in a competitive event spanning two days. 

“They had a warming tent for us to stay in overnight, but I decided to sleep with my dogs,” he said.

He said he only got about 30 minutes sleep because the other dog teams were so noisy.

Friday’s run was the shorter of the two days, about 42 miles of the 100-mile race. Paperman said he felt good the first day, but was a little nervous at the start. By the end of the day he said he was relaxed and enjoying the run and even though he didn’t get much sleep, he was ready to get up and go again on the second day.

He said he felt better at the start of the second day, but it was windy and hard to see trail. It was still dart at the 7 a.m. start and dumped snow for about three hours.

“It was hard to see the trail,” he said, “but the dogs knew where to go.”

The race is basically run out to an end point the first day, and the mushers return back to the start/finish the second day but use a different, and longer, trail.

“I felt pretty good where I finished for my first race,” he said.

He’s looking forward to his next race, the, 150-mile, two-day Junior Iditarod which begins at Knik Lake at 10 a.m. Saturday Feb. 29.

When asked about the differences between the races and the longer distance, Paperman said, “I think it’s more independent. I feel good about that.”

Dave Paperman, Sam’s father said, “we’re (Dave and Dana) so proud of Sam for having the drive and ambition to make it this far, and we’re so thankful for Travis and Sarah and all of his supporters.”

At the finish line, each musher drew a number for a prize. At the awards banquet, Paperman won a Dog Sled to help him continue his budding career!


Michael Paschall is publisher of the Seward Journal and president of TriDelta, Incorporated Publishing, owners of the Seward Journal.