ADDISON — Even though Charley Bejna calls Addison home, he spends part of the year living in Alaska preparing for one of the most challenging dog sled races in the U.S., the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Bejna is a 1991 alumnus from Addison Trail. It was in this same year that he took his first trip to Alaska with his father and discovered his passion for dog sledding.
In 2007, Bejna had the opportunity to ride with “Iditarider” Bruce Linton during the ceremonial start of the race. In 2008, he got the chance to drive a team of dogs around a training course; at that moment, Bejna knew he wanted to pursue racing.
His first race was the Willow Tug-300 in 2011. Bejna placed 17th and finished the race with the same 14 dogs he started with.
“Dogs have always been a part of my family,” Bejna said in a release from District 88. “There’s no wonder why I immediately became interested in the Iditarod.”
Bejna had to complete more than 750 miles of racing in order to qualify for the Iditarod. Those races included the Northern Lights 300, where he placed 16th and the Knik 200, where he placed 24th.
During the Iditarod Race, Bejna will have to cover more than 1,000 miles in nine to 15 days. His dog team will consist of 12 to 16 dogs.
“The training is pretty extensive,” Bejna said. “We begin training each September or October and start out running about three miles and work the team up from there. I try to get the team to 50-plus mile runs during most days of the week."
Bejna lives in Wasilla, Alaska, when he is not in Addison. He says that this year’s weather has made training particularly challenging.
The weather has been unusually warm, limiting the amount of snow. The trails are also in poor condition.
For the past 20 years, Bejna has owned and operated Charley’s Landscaping Company in Addison.
John Hitzker has been his friend for about 12 years and runs the business while he's away.
“He’s very detailed and goal-oriented,” Hitzker said. “When he goes after something, he doesn’t stop until he pursues what he’s after, such as this race or (his) business. When he puts his mind to something, he’s dedicated to it."
Bejna's biggest fear is not finishing the race.
“No matter what place I finish, just to complete it is a big goal,” Bejna said. “It has taken a lot of time and money to get where I'm at now. I also am a Type 1 diabetic, so my health is a concern during the race.”
According to Bejna’s website, iditarodmusher.com, Linton also is diabetic. Bejna was impressed by Linton’s positive attitude to not let his diabetes keep him from running dogs.
The website has a timeline and updates on the 2013 Iditarod race. On Feb. 24, an announcement was posted stating that the Iditarod Trail Invitational had begun. According to the timeline, the race begins on Saturday, followed by the re-start on Sunday.
Back in Addison, Bejna’s friends wish him all the best.
“We’re very proud of him down here in Illinois,” Hitzker said. “We hope he does well and we’re all supporting him."