Saturday, March 12, 2011

Women and Alaska's Iditarod

In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. A year later, Susan Butcher won the race and became the second four-time winner in 1990 and the first woman to ever place in the top 10. Soon after, the motto going around Alaska was: "Alaska - where men are men and women win the Iditarod."

Sadly, Susan Butcher died of leukemia in 2006. Two years later, then Governor Sarah Palin declared the first Saturday of every March—the traditional start of the Iditarod—as Susan Butcher Day.

With no special concessions for gender, the playing field is equal in this grueling race over 1,150 miles across jagged mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forests, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast between Anchorage and Nome. Temps dip way below zero, winds can interfere with visibility, and there are long hours of darkness.
"The number of women in the race has definitely increased," said Carolyn Muegge-Vaughan, who was the 49th woman to run in the 49th state in 1987, and her bib number was—49! "I always think women have more stamina, maybe it's the extra fat we carry around; but women always place in the top 20." Carolyn raced in three Iditarods, having moved to Alaska to be a dog handler for Col. Norman Vaughan in 1986 whom she later married. 

As of this writing, DeeDee Jonrowe, 57, is in the top 10 for the 2011 "Last Great Race." A cancer survivor and crowd favorite, DeeDee, her dogs and their handlers were decked out in pink at the ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 5. "The volunteers and residents of rural Alaska are an important element of the experience, and I am blessed to continue participating in this race."

DeeDee is just behind Jessie Royer, 34, from Fairbanks running 9th. Jessie got her first sled dogs at age 15; she won Montana's Race to the Sky when she was just 17.

Good luck, DeeDee and Jessie! To see how they and the 13 other women fared this year, go to for all updates.

1 comment:

  1. Keeping my fingers crossed for these inspiring ladies!