DeeDee Jonrowe, a two-time runner-up, will race her 32nd Iditarod this year. It takes a ton of tenacity to make a career out of competitive dog mushing, but Jonrowe says she was never a natural athlete and needed determination to excel. “I always wanted to be an athlete, and I was always active, but as far as being a gifted athlete ... (I'm) not necessarily gifted, but with huge drive.” She says her desire to be competitive keep her from smoking and drinking because she needed every breath of air, every inch of muscle mass. In addition to mushing, she's an avid recreational runner and has competed in the Ironman World Championship in Kona.
Jonrowe, 60, started work as a biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in the 1980s. She says it was her dream job because she loved Alaska and the outdoors. But the more time she spent indoors writing reports, the clearer it became she needed to make a switch. Jonrowe moved on to work as as a commercial fisherman, a fleet observer buying fish, and a fish-buying representative for several years. She then worked as a sport fishing guide in the summer, running dogs in the winter. That was the beginning of a long and thriving career as a competitive dog musher that includes 16 Iditarod finishes in the top 10, including the last two races across Alaska.
Jonrowe hasn't missed an Iditarod start since 1986, overcoming an array of struggles to make sure she and her dogs are on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage the first Saturday of every March. She's dealt with a traumatic car accident, a battle with breast cancer that started in 2002 and, this year, the loss of her father to cancer. But Jonrowe's drive and determination make her one of Iditarod fans' favorite mushers.
"More and more people kind of kick back and give up. I don't give up. I'm kind of ramping up. And people say, 'Well you wouldn't get it, you're an athlete.' And I say, 'No, that's not how it is. I just haven't given in yet.'"
Two years ago, she won the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award for superior dog care, and she's twice been named the race's most inspirational musher.
Watch all of the videos from our musher profile series Voices from The Last Great Race, see slideshows from the trail and more on our Iditarod page. See this video on Vimeo or YouTube, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great voices from the Last Frontier. Contact Alaska Dispatch videographer Tara Young at tara(at)alaskadispatch.com.