First Women in the Iditarod

I will miss an appointment with my massage therapist, Lisa Jordan, in March because she will be in Alaska for the start of the Iditarod. Apparently, the race actually begins in Willow, Alaska but there is a lot of hullabaloo in Anchorage first, with sleds and dogs racing through the streets—and that’s where she will be. I did not realize that there are cameras set up at each check-in point, twenty-two in all. The sleds also have GPS so they can be tracked online for the duration of the 985-mile race. Enthusiasts can follow the race to the last detail, unlike when it began in 1973.

Available at

I was surprised to learn that a woman (in fact, two women) raced in the Iditarod as early as 1974—but then women in Alaska probably didn’t hold onto stereotypes as long as many of the rest of us. Mary Shields was the First Woman to finish the race. She said that, at every checkpoint, men were betting on when the women would drop out, and the women were betting they’d finish. It kept Shields going and she finished 23rd.  Lolly Medley, the other women in the race, finished 25th.

The First Woman to win the Iditarod was Libby Riddles. She finished 18th in 1980 and 20th in 1981 but, after deciding to breed her own sled dogs, raced again in 1985. When the other competitors were being cautious, she ventured forward in a blizzard, and won. She has written three children’s books about her adventures.

The second woman to win, Susan Howlet Butcher, won in 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1990 becoming the First Woman to win four Iditarods in five sequential years. In the year she did not win, she came in second. She was in the top five for 12 out of the 17 years she competed in the race. Then, just for kicks, I guess, she was part of the dog team that first ascended Denali.

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The First Woman to complete 32 Iditarods was DeeDee Jonrowe, who competed in 36 Iditarods with 16 top-10 finishes. A serious car accident, breast cancer, the death of her parents, and a wildfire that burned her home, did not deter her from competing. This tough woman was notable in the races because of her signature pink color.

In 2006 Rachel Scdoris because the first legally blind musher to complete the Iditarod. She raced four times and finished twice.

I suspect they just grow women tougher in Alaska, but it does give those of us in the lower-48 a model for strength and perseverance. After doing a bit of research on these women, I expect to follow the race more than usual this year, beginning the first Saturday in March. There will be 15 women in the 2020 race, including two sisters.


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