Libby Riddles: First Woman to Win Iditarod Dog Sled Race
Alaska’s Iditarod dog sled race is a grueling test of endurance for both humans and dogs, as competitors follow a trail more than 1,100 miles long through forests, over mountains and across frozen rivers. The sled drivers and dog teams are often caught in fierce blizzards that cause white-out conditions and can bring a wind-chill factor of 100 degrees below zero! Begun in 1973, the first 12 Iditarod races were won by men—but that all changed in the 13th race.
On March 20, 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod. A 28-year-old musher and dog breeder, Riddles had run the Iditarod twice before, finishing 18th in 1980 and 20th in 1981. Her historic victory in 1985 was the result of a daring and very dangerous gamble she took: when a tremendous blizzard struck the race, forcing the other drivers to hole up and wait for the storm’s passing, Riddles kept going. She and her dogs could have frozen to death, but they persevered—and the bold move gained her enough of a lead to assure her victory.
This copyrighted newspaper article reporting Riddles’ Iditarod victory was published by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) on March 21, 1985:
Dauntless Woman Wins Grueling Sled Dog Race
By David Foster
Nome, Alaska (AP)—A 28-year-old woman, who plunged into a blinding blizzard while others stayed behind, cruised into Nome well ahead of the pack Wednesday to become the first woman to win the grueling, 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race.
“I can’t even believe it yet,” Libby Riddles said. “I thought I had the team to do it. I didn’t know if I could keep up my end of it.”
She drove her team of 13 dogs under the wooden arch on Front Street at 9:20 a.m. Her elapsed time of more than 18 days for the Anchorage-to-Nome race made it the fourth-slowest Iditarod on record, and the slowest since 1976.
For her victory, Riddles earns a record prize of $50,000. The next 19 mushers will split the rest of the record $200,000 purse.
Asked what she planned to do with her winnings, Riddles said: “Maybe Hawaii. And a box of dog biscuits for each of the dogs.”
The team was the same that Riddles’ boyfriend and training partner, Joe Garnie, had driven to a third-place finish last year. They live and train in Teller, a village on the Seward Peninsula, 70 miles northwest of Nome. During the summer, Riddles gives tourists dog-sled rides in Nome, and she also sews fur hats.
Riddles had grabbed the lead three days earlier by pushing her team into a punishing gale that nobody else dared challenge.
“I left those guys in the dust,” she said triumphantly to Garnie when he greeted her Tuesday at White Mountain, a checkpoint 77 miles from Nome.
Riddles and other women mushers have raced in the shadow of Susan Butcher, who has finished in the top 10 six of the seven times she’s run the Iditarod. Twice Butcher was the runner-up.
This year, Butcher was knocked out of the running early when a moose ripped through her team, killing two dogs and severely injuring several others.
Riddles’ victory in Alaska’s ultimate macho event came in her third try. She finished 18th in 1980 and 20th in 1981.
Riddles’ closest competitor, Duane Halverson of Trapper Creek, reached White Mountain about four hours behind her. John Cooper hit the checkpoint at about six hours behind her.
At least 15 of the original 61 entrants had been scratched by Wednesday. Another musher, Wes McIntyre of Ninilchik, was disqualified for “cruel and inhumane treatment” after he admitted kicking one of his dogs to death.
Three days after reporting Riddles’ victory, the Oregonian published this copyrighted editorial, on March 24, 1985:
Another barrier to equality came tumbling down, and a mighty macho one it was, when Libby Riddles mushed into Nome ahead of all of her masculine rivals to win Alaska’s grueling 1,100-mile Iditarod dog sled race from Anchorage.
Without detracting from the magnitude of the achievement, however, the asininity of the discriminatory practices of homo sapiens lies fully exposed when viewed through the eyes of Riddles’ canine partners in her triumph. After all, female dogs have teamed with male companions to win the race all along.
For more information, visit the official Libby Riddles website.
For additional information, visit the official Iditarod website.
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