Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Iditarod 43: Ladies of the Iditarod

Lisbet Norris' team of Siberian Huskies at the start of Iditarod 42.
With 10 days (well 9 days and 23 hours) to go until Iditarod 43 gets underway (with the Ceremonial Start) I figured I'd feature some of my favorite mushers/mushers to talk about. Some made my top ten list, others are favorites or friends of mine, and some are just known to the fandom and it felt wrong not to list them. So I figured I'd start with the Women of the Iditarod. This year there are 25 teams being led by a female musher on the roster of 78.

Leading the charge is Aliy Zirkle. She's a Yukon Quest champion (first and only woman to win that 1,000 mile race) and for the last three years has seen some very close second place finishes in the Iditarod. Team Seavey seems to be her kryptonite, but this year all bets are off with the trail changes and conditions. Zirkle's team ran the Yukon Quest (with Allen Moore running them) and came in second to Brent Sass. They sound like a solid team and are set to take it all the way. Zirkle and team have a great online presence with their blog and facebook accounts keeping accurate and knowledgeable information throughout the race. Zirkle is probably the most exciting lady musher since Susan Butcher, she definitely has the media's attention like Butcher commanded, and a larger percentage of the fandom rallies around her. She's a perfect ambassador for the sport and her rivalry with the big boys is fun to watch.

DeeDee Jonrowe is another favorite among the fans, she was the one that was to take the helm once Butcher retired as top female musher. She did respectably staying consistently in the top 20 and coming dangerously close to winning a few times. She had to keep up with the likes of Jeff King, Martin Buser and Doug Swingley in their primes. Jonrowe is a cancer survivor - running one of her races just months after having surgery to get rid of the tumors. She's tough as nails and is synonymous with the Iditarod. She's easily spotted in her bright pink parkas and kuspiks. You can follow Deedee on facebook. Her team is very good at keeping team updates current. A good group of people who are positive about their musher and her dogs.

Kristy and Anna Berrington - the Berrington twins. Who doesn't love to see double? Kristy runs the B team for Paul Gebhardt (though really between the two of them they share the top dogs) and Anna runs the B team for the Mushin' Mortician, Scott Jannsen. The girls typically run their teams together along the trail, much to the frustration of insiders who feel that both need to be a little more competitive in their racing, but last year Kristy kicked it up a knotch. While they do most things together (they run triathlons and marathons together too), they still have their individual goals and race to run. It's always fun to see them working on the trail, and I've no doubt they'll both make it to Nome again, just hopefully not hand in hand this time around.

Jodi Bailey is probably my absolute favorite musher on this list. She is a joy to talk to (granted I'm too shy to talk to her in person, but thank god for technology!) and cares greatly for her sport and her dogs. Jodi and her husband Dan Kaduce run the Dew Claw Kennel and switch off running the Iditarod each year. It's Jodi's turn this year, and she's trained hard. She's one of the lucky ones who live in the general area of snow. Jodi keeps fans and friends updated on the teams progress throughout the year on her blog. She's also incredibly active on facebook (most mushers aren't tech savy) and shares photos and updates in many mushing specific groups. Jodi, we will be cheering you on through the Tudor Crossing again this year, and throughout the race. Kick booty!

Lisbet Norris was a rookie last year, and is one of the few teams run with all pure bred Siberians. This typically means that the team will not be competitive, but within the Iditarod there is the race of these teams. Whoever gets to Nome first is a winner in their own right. Lisbet grew up in alaska but learned to mush in Norway, and now lives in the Mat-Su valley where she raises and races her team. You can follow her kennel via her blog, facebook, and instagram. With the incredibly warm weather this year, I expect her team to be back of the packers... however, at the same time they've been training in this weather all year so at least they'll be more used to it. At least they'll be one good looking team coming down the trail.

Monica Zappa also ran her rookie race last year and is back again for another go. She's a Peninsula musher (w00t!) and is another musher who is tech savvy enough to keep fans and friends updated with training and races. Zappa grew up in a mushing family in Wisconsin and moved to Alaska in 2010. After meeting Tim Osmar (yes, THAT Tim Osmar from THAT Osmar family) she has begun her own Iditarod racing career. She embraces all that the Alaskan lifestyle has to offer, and brings a lot of flair and color to the trail. I'm excited to see how she continues to improve, and hope this race is a good one for her! You can follow along with her on twitter, facebook, and instagram. I highly recommend that you do!

Michelle Phillips is another veteran to long distance mushing. She runs Tagish Lake Kennel with Ed Hopkins and their son. Michelle is a consistent runner in the top 20, with just a couple of finishes outside the top 20. That's pretty good for only five Iditarods. This year she won the YQ300 beating out Aliy Zirkle (the second time this happened, first being in 2013). With the trail being new to most everyone for the first half of the race (give or take) it would not surprise me that any of the consistent top 20 finishers of past races come out on top. The shake up could be exciting, and I expect Phillips to be in that mix. She has a good team set this year, and she's coming off a very successful race season. You can follow Michelle on facebook and her blog.

Jessie Royer is another lady musher that people expect great things from. She's a consistent competitor and serious about her racing. Jessie is from Montana, and while she has a home in Fairbanks, she and the dogs are based in Big Sky country. Royer learned the mushing ropes from 4-time champion Doug Swingley before branching out on her own. Jessie is in the top 20 just about every time she races, an seems pretty comfy up in the top 10. Her best placement came last year - in what most consider the most difficult race in the history of the Iditarod - when she placed 7th. This season Montana's seen more snow than Alaska, and that just might help Royer and team - their training season wasn't stunted. Plus, she seems to thrive on adversity.

The last person on my list, Zoya Denure, probably shouldn't even make my cut - but she gets a lot of attention. She's a former model from Wisconsin who seems to have a knack for PR and BS. Zoya runs a kennel with her more established "mushing expert" John Schandelmeier. You may recognize his name as he published a not so popular article on the teams that scratched on the Yukon Quest. The irony plays right into this as that seems to be Zoya's go to strategy when things get a little tough out on the trail. Zoya's scratched more than she's finished (though she has finished an Iditarod, once in four tries). It's always something random with their team that keeps them from making it to Nome. I only include her because of her popularity. I don't expect things to go any better in 2015, though if she does scratch I can't see how she and her kennel can save face after John called some of the Worlds most renowned mushers for "quitting" just this month. More power to her if she runs the whole thing, but I wouldn't waste time on hoping for it.

These are just some of the faces out on the trail, each one brings something to the race that makes it worth noting that the Iditarod sparked possibly the greatest slogan for Alaska:

"Alaska: Where men are men, and WOMEN win the Iditarod."

It's time for someone to take up that torch. Will this year be the one?

What do YOU think about the women in this year's race? Drop me a note in the comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment