Thursday, February 23, 2012

Watch out, men, the ladies are coming through!

One thing that makes the sport of mushing so fantastic is that it breaks down the gender barrier. There's no "mens" division or "women's" division. It's everyone for themeselves. In the 1980s the women dominated much of the Iditarod with five wins between two women. With nine days to go until the Start of Iditarod 40, it's time to get a preview of what and who to watch for. What better way than "ladies first," right?

The last time a woman won the Iditarod was Susan Butcher's fourth win in 1990. It's been close for a few ladies over the last 22 years, but no one has been first under that burled arch. That could change soon - possibly even this year - with the rise of the latest generation of lady mushers. Each brings new, and sometimes fresh, perspective to training and dog care. This season we've seen them all be incredibly competitive in their middistance races.

Probably most recognisable is DeeDee Jonrowe. She's one of the emotional favorites of the race, being almost always "the bridesmaid". When Butcher retired in the early 90s, the torch was passed to Jonrowe to be the next woman to win. DeeDee has come close many times in her long career, but the win has always eluded her. In 2002, DeeDee's training and racing schedule was sidelined when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She returned to the Iditarod in 2003, just weeks after surgery, and finished an impressive 18th. At age 58, she is one of the most seasoned mushers running in the 2012 race. DeeDee remains the darling of the race, and an inspiration to many. This marks her 30th Iditarod.

If DeeDee isn't the top lady finisher this year, then look for Aliy Zirkle to take that spot. Aliy has been a mainstay on Alaska trails and races for years, and her work is paying off. The family kennel looks to be as strong as it has ever been, and with the help of her husband Allen Moore it's an incredibly maintained and trained team set to take the trail to Nome next week. Zirkle won the Yukon Quest in 2000 - the only woman to do so - and is seemingly everyone's best bet to be an Iditarod Champion someday soon.

Buzz surrounds many ladies, but after her 9th place finish in her rookie year against a very competitive field in the 2012 Yukon Quest, Kristy Berrington is one of the top lady mushers coming into the Iditarod. Kristy and her identical twin sister, Anna, has lived and trained on the Kenai Peninsula for the last four years. 1984 Iditarod Champion Dean Osmar convinced Kristy and Anna to move to Alaska and run dogs. Kristy partnered with Paul Gebhardt the following year and between the two they have over 80 dogs and both are quite competitive on the trail. Anna still runs Osmar's teams, and will be running her rookie Iditarod this year, she will no doubt be one of the race's top rookies this season.

The Kenai Peninsula is beginning to churn out many great lady mushers. Colleen Robertia is a local favorite, but has shown time and again that she can and will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. Mushing enthusiasts have predicted her rise to the top in the next few years, and her work ethic has proven that drive time and again. Robertia runs both the Quest and the Iditarod most years, as well as a few middistance races. In a very competitive field for this year's Tustumena 200 she came fourth with a very strong and healthy team (the trail is well groomed, but all up-hill, both ways, in the snow, and the sun, and the cold... you get the picture). Colleen is, no doubt, on the edge of creating Iditarod magic. Could it be this year? We'll see!

Jodi Bailey is probably one of the happiest, sweetest mushers alive, but she is competitive. She makes up half of the Dew Claw Kennel out of Interior Alaska, and no doubt the dogs feed off her energy when running. She is the first rookie [of both races] to ever complete the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in a single season, which she did last year. It was a huge goal on her part, and she did a fantastic job. The Dew Claw Kennel took a year off from the Yukon Quest this year, but will be running the Iditarod hoping to improve in their standings, and no doubt they will.

Team Norway will once again be represented in the Iditarod, after being MIA last season. Due to high costs of travel with enough gear and dogs to compete, it's understandable that with the smaller reward for doing well hinders teams from coming such a long distance. Sigrid is one of the most recognizable musher from Norway, with her huge smile and enthusiasm. She's also incredibly competitive. Unlike most of the Norweigan mushing teams that come over to Alaska to run, Sigrid learned and trained and ran her first few Iditarods while living in Alaska and going to school at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It will be exciting to see her run again after her haitus!

Anjannete Steer caused a big stir in the community this year when she won the inaugural Northern Lights 300. Wife of Iditarod Veteran Zack Steer, she's running the A-team in her rookie Iditarod as Zack is taking the year off. Zack has broken the top fifteen in the past, and it looks like the team is in good shape to give Anjannete a great race.

Probably not competitive, but always a joy to see in the race would be the beautiful siberian team led by Karen Ramsted. Siberians make for beautiful postcards, but are hard pressed to be winners of long distance races that take just over a week to complete. Siberians are a little larger than Alaskan huskies, and have thicker fur, they overheat faster and so are a slower team. Still, Karen's enthusiasm for the sport and her dogs make her a fan favorite world-wide. She took a hiatus from the race last year, but is back with her happy Sibes. She's our favorite Canuck!

After a disappointing scrach in last year's Iditarod, Zoya Denure was unsure that she would run the Iditarod, but she couldn't stay away. She has something to prove with a lot of talk going around that she doesn't have what it takes. Zoya and her husband devote time to training and rehabilitating rescued dogs for a life not just in mushing, but an active healthy life not matter where and what they're doing. When she's not racing dogs, speaking or taking folks on sled dog tours, Zoya is a devoted mom to young Jona who is as adorable as all get out. Whether or not she is ever a top competitor Zoya just makes you smile with her updates about her team.

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