The 43rd running of ‘The Last Great Race’ began in earnest today with the restart in Fairbanks.
There are many interesting twists in this year’s Iditaord 2015 which include starting from the ‘Golden Heart City’ for the second time in its storied history due to one of the warmest “winters” in recent memory. This results in the teams following even more of the original trail of the “Race for Mercy,” an emergency dog sled relay in 1925 that brought life-saving diphtheria antitoxin to the afflicted residents of Nome.
Another factoid about this years Iditarod is the record number of women mushers who have set their sights on Nome. While 24 women have taken on the challenge of this grueling 979 mile endurance contest this year, women have been very much a part of this race almost from the beginning. Mary Shields became the first woman to complete the race in 1974, the second year of the Iditarod. The first woman to win the race was Libby Riddles in 1985 when she successfully pulled off a daring maneuver. In the midst of a blinding whiteout snowstorm with her competition pinned down in Shaktoolik, Riddles and her thirteen dogs snuck out onto the sea ice of Norton Sound. After three hours running against the forty-knot winds, Riddles’ team was exhausted. For the next twelve hours, the dogs slept curled up under the snow and Riddles huddled in her sleeping bag inside the sled. The blinding storm was still raging as the dogs awoke, but the team was rested and ready to run. They never relinquished the lead and, three days later, Riddles rode into Nome and across the finish line—the first woman to win the Iditarod.
The late Susan Butcher is no doubt the most winningest woman musher to date as she crossed the finish line in Nome first 4 times between 1986 and 1990. In fact in a 6 year period in the ’80’s women won the Iditarod 5 times resulting in T-shirts proudly worn all over the state which declared, “Alaska, where men are men and women win the Iditarod!”.
DeeDee Jonrowe is one of the most inspirational mushers of Iditarod along with being highly competitive for many years. DeeDee placed second in 1998 with the fifth fastest Iditarod time ever recorded at that point. She’s a ten time top ten finisher since her first Iditarod in 1980 and she is a cancer survivor who at this very moment is urging her team down the trail.
Currently Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, Alaska, (Bib #32, pictured above) is among the most dominant of the top dog drivers period as she has finished 2nd this past 3 years. This could be the year she crosses under the arches on the front street of Nome first.
When you consider the length of the race, the unpredictable weather and the punishing terrain anyone who completes the Iditarod is an individual to be admired and many women fit that category. Safe travels to all the mushers and their teams!