Mary Shields was one of two women to be the first to participate in the Iditarod Trail Race in 1974, and the first to finish the Iditarod. She placed 23rd then. Her first race experience came shortly after she came to Alaska. In October some friends of hers let her borrow 3 of their dogs and a sled for her to use in hauling water and firewood. From this experience she learned a love for dogs and mushing.
|"Over the winter, the country taught me many lessons. Being by myself, I had time to watch and listen. I heard the singing of my own heart - the joys, the fears, the questions, the unanswerables. A peace filled me and gave me strength I had not known before."|
Everyone was aware that women were racing that year and the spotlight was really on Mary. The men were determined not to be outdone by the women. When she reached Shaktoolik, several teams pulled out. The checker told her that the men had planned to stay the night, but they saw her coming and harnessed their dogs and left as they didn't want to be passed by a woman!
When Mary reached Solomon (the last checkpoint before Nome), Lolly Medley (the only other female participant) arrived several hours after her. They both decided to rest. When Mary woke up Lolly was already on her way to Nome. Mary set out after her. When there were only 10 miles left and still no sign of Lolly Mary thought she had lost the race to being the first woman to finish the Iditarod. But somewhere on the way she had passed Lolly. Lolly came in 26 minutes later. 30 women in parkas held a banner over Mary's head that said, "You've Come a Long Way, Baby".
Instead of taking a plane ride home to Fairbanks, Mary chose instead to start mushing her dogs back down along the Iditarod Trail.
© Copyright 1997 Elizabeth Beckett and Sarah Teel
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