In 1985 nobody noticed as a woman, slight of frame, left Anchorage in the Iditarod. She was a nobody from somewhere. But when she was the first one to check into Safety - the last checkpoint before Nome - five hours ahead of the nearest competitor, everyone cheered in surprise. At 9 am on Wednesday, March 20th, Libby Riddles became the very first woman to ever win the Iditarod.
|"I foresee running dogs for a long time. I'll probably have dogs my whole life."|
Just before her 17th birthday Libby moved to Alaska. She lived right outside of Anchorage and later in a town called Nelchina. She loved all the dog races, and especially how the dogs seemed to love racing. She entered a small race in 1978, winning first place. Then she received a lead dog from Rick Swenson, a major Iditarod racer. After placing 18th in the 1980 Iditarod and 20th in the 1981 Iditarod, Libby decided she would have to breed her own dogs to get anywhere.
A short time later she moved to Shaktoolik, near Nome, where she worked as a fish buyer. There she started to train her dogs (and herself!) in the Arctic conditions. Not long after that she moved again, this time to Teller which is northwest of Nome. There she became partners with Joe Garnie and they bred and trained dogs together.
Joe and Libby took turns racing the dogs in the Iditarod. In 1984 Joe came in third place. Then Libby made her amazing race to come in first in 1985. Joe came in second in 1986. They really proved they had wonderful dogs!
Libby came in first against all odds. When she reached the Shaktoolik checkpoint she was in first and a howling windstorm was building. The person who was right behind her said something to the extent of "You're crazy! If it's anything like what I just came out of, it's impossible!". That made up Libby's mind, she headed out immediately.
Libby described the ordeal:
|"It was grim. I could not see from one trail marker to the next. I let my dogs go so far that I could barely see the marker behind me, because I didn't want to lose that sucker. When that was at the edge of my visibility, I'd put my snowhook in and walk up ahead of the dogs until I could see the next marker. And we repeated that process. It was very slow. For some idiot reason the dogs trusted that I knew what I was doing."|
But she made it! She still races the Iditarod every once in a while, but she is exploring other kinds of racing more and more.
© Copyright 1997 Elizabeth Beckett and Sarah Teel
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