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Jim Gallea becomes first SSHS
National Merit Sholarship Finalist

Jim Gallea
Seeley-Swan High School Senior

by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
May 21, 1998

Seeley Swan High School's first National Merit Scholarship Finalist is now eligible for scholarships totalling $8,000 at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Jim Gallea, son of Bill and Cindy Gallea of Seeley Lake, became a finalist in the competition last fall, thanks to his above-average SAT scores.

Gallea chose UM because he could stay close to his family and friends. His younger brother is still in school at Seeley Lake, he said.

According to Diane Hogan of the University of Montana Financial Aid office, Gallea has been offered $2,000 a year for four years to be used toward tuition at UM.

"This is a substantial scholarship for UM," she explained. "Most scholarships here are non-renewable."

Tuition at UM averages about $3,000 per year, Hogan explained. The total annual cost of attending school at UM, including tuition, room and board, books and supplies, is estimated at $10,160 she said.

Gallea has maintained a 4.0 grade point average during all four years of high school at Seeley Lake. His favorite subjects include math, English, government and physics.

"We have a lot of fun here," he said, adding that he likes SSHS because it's a small school. "We have what we need, and most of the time the scheduling works out so that you can take what you need," he explained.

Gallea has taken honors English and math classes at SSHS, and describes them as being "really good" and challenging. He is considering majoring in medicine in college. His father is a doctor and his mother is a nurse practitioner. "I've watched my folks," he said. "I'd see dad working in the emergency room sometimes and I'd think, 'This would be a good thing to do,'" he said.

However, Gallea has the entire summer ahead of him to make a decision about his major at college. While Gallea's academic achievements are outstanding, they have been overshadowed recently by his burning interest in sled dog racing. He has owned and trained sled dogs since he was in grade school, and has competed in racing events for the past several years.

"The first time I ever ran a dog team by myself, I had one dog and a sled with no brake," he grinned. He worked his way up to 6-, 10-, and 12-dog teams.

In February, Gallea traveled to Alaska with his family and competed in the Junior Iditarod where he ran 10 dogs in the 100-mile race. He received the Humanitarian Award for the best treatment of his dogs. Although he missed the third quarter of his senior year at SSHS, and had to complete some courses by correspondence, he says he has no regrets. "It was very worth it. It was the best time of my life so far," he said.

His mother, Cindy, competed in the main Iditarod this year, finishing 48th. The 1,000-mile Iditarod is the "super bowl" of sled dog racing events, Gallea explained. "It's a premier mushing event with a half million dollar purse."

Cindy, he said, pulled from her life experiences to run that race. He explained that she was out on the trail for two weeks in weather that ranged from 30 degrees above zero during the day to 30 below zero at night. "It takes an incredible amount of character to put yourself through something like that," he said.

The whole "Iditarod thing," as Jim calls it, was a family affair. "It was really neat," he said. "It was incredible to see her (Cindy) come down the finish line, even when it was 30 degrees and raining."

It was while young Gallea was in Alaska that he realized he wanted to compete in the Iditarod himself one day. Because of his experience there as a handler and competitor in the Junior Iditarod, he has been offered the chance to run a friend's "puppy team" in the main Iditarod next winter. The opportunity surprised him. "It's a big honor, and a big break," he said.

Gallea has accepted a summer job in Alaska, working for a tour business owned and operated by a sled dog racing family. He explained that working in Alaska will help him make a decision about entering the Iditarod.

And maybe, he said, competing in the Iditarod will help him make wise choices in his life, he said. "It'll be challenging," he said. If he competes in the Iditarod next winter, at age 19 he will be among the youngest to ever enter the race.

His life goals, however, are to go to college. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life concentrating on sled dogs," he explained.

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