At 4-foot-7, 17-year-old stands eye-to-eye with competition
TOFTE -- A small young woman accomplished a big feat Monday in the John Beargrease mid-distance race. Seventeen-year-old Eva Kolodji of Hibbing is one of the youngest female mushers to compete and finish the race from Duluth to Tofte. Musher Bill...
TOFTE -- A small young woman accomplished a big feat Monday in the John Beargrease mid-distance race.
Seventeen-year-old Eva Kolodji of Hibbing is one of the youngest female mushers to compete and finish the race from Duluth to Tofte.
Musher Billie Diver first competed in the race at 15, and Erin Lindquist, the youngest in Beargrease history, was 14 in 2005.
With a team of seven sled dogs, Kolodji, who was born with achondroplasia dwarfism, swooshed and slid in as one of 28 mushers to finish Monday. Her total trail time was 14 hours, 58 minutes and seven seconds.
"Eva is a hero to many of us," said family friend Jenny Morrison-Cleary. "What she overcomes on a daily basis, putting books in her locker or driving a sled, she is a ray of sunshine and has a can-do attitude."
Kolodji, who stands 4-foot-7, commandeered her team along a 111-mile trail through about 12 hours of darkness and wind chills near 25 to 35 below zero.
"When she stands on the back of a sled, she's 6-feet," said Doris Kolodji, her mother. "Everything else in society that judges her doesn't matter. ... There is no question that the sport has done wonders for her confidence."
People with achondoplasia dwarfism, a genetic disorder, often have joint and spinal problems, but Eva is healthy and strong, said Cory Kolodji, her father.
Although Eva, a junior, doesn't play a team sport for the Bluejackets, she says she is a member of her own team.
"It's not a condition that holds me back," Eva said. "It's nothing a stool -- or a good team of sled dogs -- can't help."
Doris Kolodji said a lot of the dogs share Eva's traits of being small and tough.
"For Eva, quitting is never an option," Morrison-Cleary said. "It's never about not doing it."
Eva was introduced to dog sledding when she was in the second grade. Now with her dogs housed at Rebekah Chapman's family farm near Cook, Eva has competed in shorter races across Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"She has learned stuff the hard way," Doris said. "We knew nothing about the sport. We've followed Eva, not the other way around."
Wintergreen Northern Wear, a clothing store in Ely, outfitted Eva with custom-made winter gear to brave the elements in comfort.
"It was really huge what they did," Cory Kolodji said.
The Kolodjis also were grateful for the generosity of Beargrease officials.
"With these Beargrease folks, two things strike me," Doris said. "They are so professional. They run like a Swiss watch. ... And they are so nice."