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C.J.’s Iditarod Wish Continues to Inspire 20 years later

CJ wishes to go dog sledding. Photos courtesy family

“ It was magical. ”


- Carla, wish mom

Do you know that feeling of anticipation when you've picked the perfect gift for someone you love? You've wrapped it up, and now you get to watch them open it?

That’s how wish mom Carla described the magic of Make-A-Wish for her family.

20 years ago, Carla’s son C.J. wished to go dog sledding in Alaska.

Picture this. It’s March of 1996. Nine-year-old C.J. from Broadalbin, New York, crawls around in the snow in downtown Anchorage with a bunch of sled dogs.

He’s left his pesky crutches in a snowbank. He’s not worried about his missing leg, recently amputated due to his battle with osteosarcoma.

He’s too focused on the dogs to worry about cancer and chemo and hospital stays.

CJ at BanquetC.J.’s dressed up in official Iditarod outdoor gear, and he’s ready for his wish to come true. 

Tails wag. Dogs bark and howl. That’s all that matters to C.J. These huskies… and his musher, Jeff King. He’s living his Iditarod moment.

“It’s a whirlwind, going through cancer and chemo…and all of a sudden packing our bags and heading to Alaska,” said C.J.’s mom Carla. “It was magical.”

When it’s Jeff King’s turn to go to the starting line of the Last Great Race, dogs bark and tug on their harnesses with excitement. C.J. waves from inside the dog sled.

Together with Jeff King, C.J. travels the first 22 miles of the Iditarod from Anchorage to Eagle River.

The ride lasts just a few hours, but the memory lives on twenty years later.

“Magical.” That’s the word Carla uses to describe C.J.’s wish today.

Before Jeff King departed for Nome the next day, C.J. gave him a lucky penny and said, “I want you to win the race.”

King had already won the race in 1993, and this lucky penny made him want to capture his second title even more.

Flash forward more than a week, and 1,000 treacherous miles later.

By that time, C.J. was back home in New York, but his mind was glued to his Alaska wish experience…and his musher, Jeff King, was about to win the race…with his lucky penny.

C.J. wrote a special letter to Jeff King. Under the burled arch finish line in Nome, Iditarod champion Jeff King read C.J.’s letter over the microphone.

Hi Jeff,

It’s CJ. I knew you could win. I’m very proud of you. I thought of you the whole time. Do you know what the other mushers said? They said they can’t catch you. Let me know what dogs finished the race. I hope to talk to you soon.

I love you, Jeff.

C.J.

A family trip to Alaska. A sled adventure with a team of sled dogs and a mushing champion. A lucky penny. These were the ingredients for C.J.’s wish.

The recipe was pure “magic,” something that his family recalls 20 years later.

C.J. passed away the following year in 1997. However, his wish lives on. Every year, his mom sends Jeff King the lucky penny to travel the Iditarod. Every year, she remembers that feeling when she got to see her son open that perfect gift—his wish granted.

Thanks to your support, we’ve been granting wishes for 30 years. Will you help us continue to give the gift of hope, strength and joy?

It’s a whirlwind, going through cancer and chemo…and all of a sudden packing our bags and heading to Alaska. It was magical. ”

— Carla, wish mom

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2 Comments

Carla Kolbe

Thanks you Make-A-Wish for creating this life-changing, magical moment. The power of this wish continues 20 years later. We are forever grateful!!
Carla - Wish Mom

March 05, 2016 - 10:10 AM

A Dedicated Make a Wish Supporter Alaska

And the story gets even better...I had the honor of assisting in the coordination of CJ's wish. I got to go skiing with CJ at Alyeska Resort and introduced CJ to the gentleman who gave him the lucky penny which was nearly 100 years old. Not only did CJ give the penny to Iditarod musher Jeff King, but that same penny has been inside the boot of the jockey of a Kentucky Derby race horse, hoping the same luck which propelled Jeff King to victory might also help win the Derby. (The gentleman who gave the penny to CJ was part owner of the racehorse.). The time I got to spend with CJ and his family during his Iditarod Wish as well as later that summer when they visited Alaska again was one of the most impactful memories of my life. It was a true honor to meet CJ.

July 20, 2016 - 8:57 AM

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