Libby Riddles: Libbymania helped propel race

Libby Riddles made her own luck. On a Sunday night in 1985, she mushed 13 dogs out of Shaktoolik and into the teeth of a blizzard that pinned every other racer to the town. The daring move gave Riddles a lead that couldn't be overcome, and she reached Nome three days later as the first woman ever to win the Iditarod.

"She beat the odds, she beat deadly weather and she showed true musher's heart, " wrote reader Henry J. Wojtusik.

The victory brought Riddles instant fame in Alaska.

She also was discovered and embraced by the rest of the nation. Being the first woman to win, and winning in such bold fashion, caught people's attention. It didn't hurt that Riddles was an attractive 28-year-old. President Ronald Reagan sent her a telegram of congratulation. Vogue ran her picture. The Women's Sports Foundation made her its Professional Sportswoman of the Year.

The race benefited as much, if not more, than Riddles herself. It moved from inside the sports sections of the nation's newspapers and onto the glossy pages of newsmagazines. People who had never noticed the race before sat up and took notice.

"Libby Riddles didn't put the race on the map by herself, " wrote nominating committee member Frank Gerjevic in 1997, "but her victory was such a storybook, gutsy move for the women's first win that the race got a lot more attention because of her."

Riddles never won another Iditarod. Her next-best finish was 16th. But she didn't have to. She was more than just an Iditarod champion. She was a phenomenon, sparking a burst of Libbymania. And many people who caught Libbymania also contracted Iditarod fever.

"Was Libby's win important?" said longtime Iditarod Trail committeeman Leo Rasmussen. "To tell you that it wasn't would be telling you the greatest lie on Earth."

Inducted 1997 Greatest accomplishment First woman to win the race. Vital stats Born: Madison, Wis. Hometown: Fritz Creek Age: 52 Best finish 1st -- 1985 Fastest time 1989 -- 12 days, 8 hours, 35 minutes Race record 1980 18th 1981 20th 1985 1st 1987 Scratched 1989 16th 1995 32nd Awards Golden Harness (to outstanding lead dog) -- 1985 Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian -- 1985