Friday is International Women’s Day. We’re also in the middle of Iditarod madness.
To celebrate this confluence of events, here’s a look at some of the badass women who made history in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which tests the spirits and bodies of tough-as-nails long-distance mushers each year.
Libby Riddles was the first woman to win the Iditarod, back in 1985. That year, she and her dog team braved a blizzard out of Shaktoolik in a daring move that sealed her place in race history. Her victory kicked off a four-year run of Iditarod victories by women.
Susan Butcher dominated the Iditarod in the late 1980s, winning in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990. What happened in 1989? She came in second place — finishing less than an hour after that year’s winner, Joe Runyan. Butcher finished in the top five in 12 of the 17 years she ran the race, and in 1979 was also part of the first ascent of Denali by dog team.
DeeDee Jonrowe has finished 32 of her 36 Iditarods, more than any other woman. She has 16 top-10 finishes, including two as runner-up. Between 1980 and 2018, Jonrowe missed just three races, even in the face of a major car accident, breast cancer, the passing of her parents and a wildfire that destroyed her home in Willow. You couldn’t miss her on the trail: Pink became her signature color.
Mary Shields and Lolly Medley
In 1974, the second Iditarod, Fairbanks’ Mary Shields and Nenana’s Lolly Medley made history as the first two women to run in the race. Shields finished in 23rd place — the first woman to complete the Iditarod — and Medley finished 25th. Shields recounted how she found more encouragement in the checkpoint of Nulato during the ’74 race: "I learned men were betting on which checkpoint the women would drop out at, and every time we left (a checkpoint), there were women raking in money, " she said. “Those women were on my sled, too. I had to keep going for them.”
Rachael Scdoris became the first legally blind musher to complete the Iditarod in 2006, when she finished 57th. She completed the race twice in four attempts, adding a 45th-place finish in 2009.
And in this year’s race, there’s no shortage of Iditarod powerhouses carrying on the legacy established by the female pioneers above. Below are just a few of them:
Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle, who’s been racing near the front of the pack in this year’s race, has completed the Iditarod 18 times. She’s finished in second place three straight times, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, which was then followed by three consecutive top-10 finishes. She has the best race record among the women competing in the 2019 Iditarod.
Jessie Royer, who’s been hanging out in the top 10 for much of this year’s race, has completed 16 Iditarods, with her best finish coming in 2015 at fourth place. The Fairbanks musher recorded six top-10 finishes, and has never placed below 21st.
Cindy Gallea of Wykoff, Minnesota, has completed 12 of 14 Iditarods, with her first race in 1998 resulting in a 48th-place finish.
Knik musher Kristy Berington has competed in the Iditarod each year since 2010, with her best finishes coming in 2011 and 2015 at 29th place.
Anna Berington, who operates a Knik kennel with twin sister Kristy, has finished every Iditarod since 2012 and finished in 22nd place last year.