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.

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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.

First Women from a British Fashion Magazine

Searching the airport magazine rack, on my way to Dallas, I spied a magazine with an intriguing promo on the first page. “Incredible Women” it shouted in letters only slightly smaller than the name of the magazine, Porter. I didn’t know the magazine (turns out it’s like Vogue and other high-end fashion magazines only it’s British and you can shop right off of its pages). One issue was $10, so I hesitated, but the subtitle, “The voices inspiring change in 2017” drew me in. I plopped down my money, certain the magazine would yield some First Women in its pages.

And it did—24 pages, with “50 global heroines in science, entertainment, business and beyond, who have spoken out and empowered us over the last 12 months.” The magazine was not current, it turned out, published early in 2017. This was before “Me, too” so the names might be different now, but the list did yield some interesting First Women:

Sarahal Suhaimi (photographed with hijab) – the First Women CEO of a Saudi investment bank, also the First Woman to head Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange.

Maria Balshaw – First Women to head the Tate Museum in England

Cressida Dick – First Woman head of the Metropolitan Police in London

Danny Cotton – First Women commissioner of the London Fire Brigade

Misty Copeland  also made the list, the First African-American Woman principal at the American Ballet Theater.

There were three First Women who surprised me:

Nita Ambani – First Woman member of the International Olympic Committee (Women have competed since 1900. What took so long?)

Barbara Jatta – First Woman to head the Vatican Library (Let’s hear it for Pope Francis!)

Jamie Kern Lima – First Woman CEO of L’Oreal (Really? This company was founded in 1909 in Paris to sell women’s cosmetics. Only now a woman is in charge?)

In general, a disproportionate number of women in fashion and related industries were in the list. Upon reflection, I wondered whether women might make faster progress in chipping away at glass ceilings if the women in industries that are generally considered “Women’s Work” spoke out more and pushed for change. Given the recent “Me, too” movement, perhaps they have.

The piece also pointed out the number of women who are still recognized as “The First Woman To. . .” In lists of men that appear in magazines, the words ‘the first man to. . .” rarely makes the page. Except for Neil Armstrong or some athletic records, the word “first” rarely appears for our masculine counterparts. I long for the day when women routinely participate in so many arenas that the word “first” does not have to be used to define a woman who succeeds.

 

 

Ginny Baker – Fictional First Woman

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-9-53-47-am       I would like to have been a fly on the wall when Rick Singer and Kevin Falls “pitched” their idea for a new television series about a woman baseball player who makes it to the major leagues. The series, aptly named Pitch, debuted last week on Fox.

Ginny Baker is the pitcher who is given a change to play in the major leagues. Her debut performance is abysmal, but she bounces back and, although she doesn’t finish her second game, pitches long enough to earn credit for a win. The story, of course, is about relationships: the relationship she has with a former teammate who is her restrained cheerleader, the complicated relationship she had with her father, and relationships with the men who see her as an intruder on their turf. I understand the relationship with her mother will be introduced later in the series.

Although the producers say that they didn’t have a particular race in mind for the part, they cast the black actress Kylie Bunbury, and now the writers are free to introduce thematic material around her color. In the first episode much is made of the fact that the number on her uniform is 43, one off from Jackie Robinson (who, by the way, has the only number in baseball retired by the entire league).

The possibility that some television executives thought this might make good television is certainly a sign of the times. That the Major Baseball League (MLB) is a partner in the venture, allowing the producers to use their stadiums and logos, is even more remarkable. On the show Ginny plays on the San Diego Padres.

The real San Diego Padres aired the show on their video board the day before the series ran nationally. Their advertising for the game encouraged fans to bring their “girls and families” to the park for this event. Perhaps this is all a marketing ploy to get more girls to major league baseball games, but I can’t forget one image from the show. Ginny Baker arrives at Petco Park and a mob awaits her. As she is rushed through the crowd she sees a small, blonde, white girl in her daddy’s arms holding a sign that says, “I’m next.”

FIRST WOMEN OF COLOR AT THE OLYMPICS

SIMONE MANUEL

Simone Manuel is the First African American Woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming. Her time in the 2016 Olympics of 52.70 seconds set both an American and Olympic record. An amazing feat for a woman who belongs to the meager 1.3% of African Americans who are members of USA Swimming. Manuel is majoring in science, technology and society.

There were other African-American Women who medaled at the Olympics before Simone Manuel and Simone Biles, the gymnast who will carry the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies. Some of the more famous are:

ALICE COACHMAN–Alice Coachman was the first woman of color to be a member of the U.S. track and field team. She became the First African-American Woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1948. Her medal in the high jump was the only gold medal for the U.S. Team that year.

WILMA RUDOLPH

 

–Wilma Rudolph was the First American Woman to win three track and field gold medals at the Olympics. A sickly child who wore a brace on her leg as a child, she medaled in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

 

VONETTA FLOWERS–Vonetta Flowers was the first black athlete, male or female, to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. She started her athletic career as a sprinter and long jumper but switched to bobsledding in the 2002 Olympics. She and Jill Bakken won in the first year this event was included in the Olympics for women. (Men had been competing in the bobsled in the Olympics for 70 years by then).

 

DOMINIQUE DAWES–In 1996 Dominique Dawes was the First Black Person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. She was also the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics. During this year’s Olympics she introduced a trailer for an upcoming movie, “Hidden Figures,” which is about three African American women mathematicians who provided critical assistance to John Glenn’s first flight.

Olympic Women with Multiple Firsts

For every sport and every event in the Olympics, there is a First Woman who won a medal in a sport when women were permitted to compete. Their names would fill a ledger book. The women featured here hold more than one first (although not all in the Olympics):

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.00.37 PM–Aileen Riggin swam in the 1920 and 1924 Olympic games. She won a gold medal at the 1920 Antwerp games, the youngest American to win Olympic gold. She was the first woman to medal in both swimming and diving. She was still swimming at 85 when she competed in the world masters championships—and broke six world records in her age group.

–Martha Norelius was the First Woman to win successive Olympic gold medals, in 1924 and 1928. She beat out Gertrude Ederle, the First Woman to swim the English Channel.

–Connie Carpenter-Phinney was the First Woman to compete in the winter and summer Olympics. She competed in speed skating in 1972 and still holds the record as the youngest competitor in the Winter Olympics. She won a gold medal in the cycling road race in 1984.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.06.19 PM–Deborah “Debbie” Meyer was the First Woman to win three individual Olympic gold medals—in the 200-, 400, and 800- meter freestyle swimming races.

–Bonnie Blair was an Olympic speed skater. She won a gold medal in 1988 and two golds in 1992, the First Woman to medal in two consecutive Winter Olympic games.

–Joan Benoit was the First Woman to win a marathon at the Olympics. This did not happen until 1984 because women were not allowed to run a marathon until then. She had previously won the Boston Marathon and set a record that held for 11 years.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.03.20 PM–Maria Gorohkovskaya of the Soviet Union was the First Woman to win a gold medal in women’s gymnastics when the sport was added to the Olympics in 1952. It was not until 1984 that an American woman won the gold. Mary Lou Retton went on to have her face featured on a Wheaties box. Wheaties had been putting athletes on its cereal boxes since 1934, but Mary Lou Retton was the First Woman.