Women of the Iditarod 2019
It’s that time of year again!! Time to learn about the badass lives of the incredible women of Iditarod 2019.
If you don’t know much about the Iditarod, just know that it is an annual long-distance (1,000-ish miles; the route varies slightly each year) dog sled race through the great state of Alaska. Mushers start with up to sixteen dogs, five must still be on the towline at the finish line. Racers brave high winds, frigid cold, and sometimes wild animals for 8-15 days or more to win the title of Iditarod champion.
Before we get started: In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8th), here’s a message from the Iditarod ladies to the girls of the world: You can be anything you want to be. These ladies will be battling bison and frostbite on International Women’s Day, so we’re getting the message out early.
Let’s get to it! In alphabetical order (by last name), our first musher is…
Cindy Abbott, age 60 • born and raised in Nebraska; lives in Willow, Alaska
This woman is all about goals.
Cindy graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Masters in Kinesiology in 1996 and then went on to teach Health Sciences there for 23 years.
In 2007 she made it her goal to climb Everest, but then was diagnosed with a rare, incurable disease (Wegener’s granulomatosis). On May 23, 2010, she summited Everest anyway.
In 2011, she made it her goal to finish the Iditarod. In her first run, she hurt herself after only 20 miles. She continued until mile 630 (10 days) before eventually dropping out, only to find she had a broken-in-two-places pelvis. In 2015, her third attempt, she finished the race and fulfilled another dream.
Cindy has become an active rare disease advocate, for the National Organization of Rare Disorders (NORD). She has written a book about her disease and her subsequent summit of Mt. Everest called, Reaching Beyond The Clouds.
Cindy believes that adversity can elicit hidden strength, and she lives her life accordingly. Though now functionally blind in one eye from the disease, Cindy continues to set and smash goals.
This year is Cindy’s 5th and final Iditarod.
Cindy’s Website: www.reachingbeyondtheclouds.com
Kristin Bacon, age 45 • born in Ohio; lives in Big Lake, Alaska
Kristin went to Ohio State University and graduated with a degree in Physical Therapy. In 1999, she took a job with Providence Children’s Hospital in Alaska. Her two-year commitment to Alaska quickly turned into something else entirely. It was at the hospital where she was introduced to a doctor with a dog sled team (only in Alaska, huh?).
In 2005, she first volunteered for the Iditarod at the Skwentna checkpoint. After nearly a decade as a checkpoint volunteer, Kristin herself began mushing in 2011, finishing her first Iditarod in 2016.
Kristin continues her work as a pediatric physical therapist and has combined her two loves by offering free dog sled rides to kids with special needs (the Ikidarod) and doing mushing activities with her kid-patients at Bacon’s Acres.
Kristin’s Website: www.baconsacres.com
Anna and Kristy Berington, age 35 • from Wisconsin; now living in Knik, Alaska
The twins are back at it again! Honestly, I’d separate these two into their own distinct listings, but these identical twin sisters have been inseparable since birth. Between the two of them, they have already completed 16 Iditarods.
And just how tough are they?? Several years ago, Anna got frostbite during a dog sled race which required a surgeon to trim the tips off her big toes. And, of course, that has slowed her down ZERO.
These 6″ tall ladies, with their matching blonde braids, are the epitome of outdoorsy and adventurous. After high school, the girls joined the Army National Guard together, then tried the college thing for a stint, before quickly realizing that sitting still just wasn’t for them.
They eventually made their way up to Alaska in 2007. When not mushing, they run triathlons (here they are in Runner’s World!) and work as carpenters, landscapers, and commercial fishermen.
“I love endurance sports and adventure! – Kristy Berington
Anna and Kristy’s Website: www.seeingdoublesleddogracing.com
Blair Braverman, age 30 • born and raised in Davis, California; currently lives in Mountain, Wisconsin
Being highly educated seems to be a common theme with the ladies on the Iditarod trail this year, and rookie Blair Braverman is no exception. Blair has her MFA in nonfiction writing from the university of Iowa and has worked as a writer for the last eight years.
“I met my husband, Quince Mountain, in graduate school, where we were both studying writing. I was a musher and he’d been working as a cowboy.”
Check out Blair and her husband offering free dog sled rides to the polls, HERE.
Blair is proud to be Jewish, enjoys figure skating, and is also the author of: Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube
Blair’s Website: www.blairbraverman.com/mushing
Paige Drobny, age 44 • born in Pennsylvannia; lives in Fairbanks, Alaska
This red-headed lady has taken the last two years off from the Iditarod, but she’s ba-ack for 2019! And just three days ago, she clenched 6th place in the Yukon Quest (the OTHER 1,000+ mile arctic dog race) kicking her still-on-the-trail, currently-in-12th-place husband’s ass.
Growing up, Paige moved all over before eventually graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in Biology. She worked in Colorado as a fisheries biologist before moving to Alaska for graduate school. In 2008 she earned her M.S. in Fisheries Oceanography (yep, another lady with a Masters degree).
While in Alaska, Paige and her black lab, Yogi (whom she affectionately calls her dog sled team manager), met another pair, now-husband Cody Strathe and his dog, Keetna. Paige and Cody bought a place together and named it Squid Acres after Paige’s masters thesis project on squid in the Bering sea.
“In 2010, Cody and I decided to give it a whirl and entered the GinGin 200 together… we had a blast, and suddenly we were on the slippery slope.”
Paige’s Website: www.squidacres.com
Marcelle Fressineau, age 64 • born in Switzerland; lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Marcelle was born and raised in Switzerland. After receiving her degrees in Mathematics and Science, she eventually made her way to Canada in 1995, because it offered more space for mushing.
It was only 5 years ago that Marcelle ran her rookie Iditarod… at the age of 59! She is second oldest lady in this years race.
Early in last year’s race, Marcelle chased off three bison with an axe, and the next day ran a moose off the trail before eventually deciding to scratch the race.
Marcelle’s goal was to enter the Iditarod once. But like so many mushers, she can’t quite seem to get enough. 2019 will be her fourth and final go.
Marcelle’s Website: www.marcelle-fressineau.com
Cindy Gallea, age 67• From Wykoff, Minnesota
This will be Cindy’s 15th time racing to Nome since her rookie race in 1998. At 67 years old, she is the oldest female in this years race.
Cindy grew up on a farm surrounded by animals and the outdoors. She first began mushing in northern Minnesota in the late ‘80s, and her passion grew as she ran longer and longer races.
Cindy is the mother of two adult sons, Jim and Brian. And yes, she has a Masters degree: she graduated from the University of Washington in 1990 and has worked as a nurse practitioner for the last 27 years.
“…in spite of deciding, at least twice before, to retire from Iditarod, I’m back for one more run.”
Cindy enjoys bicycling, canoeing, and politics.
This may or may not be Cindy’s last run.
Victoria Hardwick, age 33 • born in Colville, Washington; currently lives in Bethel, Alaska
It’s rookie year for Victoria Hardwick! Victoria’s first “sled” dog Beau pulled her around on her roller blades as a child.
Her love of dogs, being outside, and adventuring has remained constant.
She has a bachelors in Biology from Gonzaga University and then went to the University of Washington School of Dentistry. After finishing dental school in Seattle, Victoria moved to Alaska to start mushing and practice public health dentistry in the Bush. She just began mushing in 2014 and by that winter, she was already interested in running the Iditarod.
Dr. Victoria Hardwick enjoys hiking, fishing and exploring. That’s right, I said doctor.
Jessica Klejka, age 29 • Raised in Bethel, Alaska; Currently in Knik, Alaska
Jessica is another rookie on the 2019 roster. And another doctor.
Jessica is the oldest of a family of seven children, and is one of the rare entrants who actually grew up mushing. By age 12 she had decided she would one day run the Iditarod. In high school, she won the Jr. Iditarod.
She attended veterinary school at Washington State University to learn more about caring for sled dogs, receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2016. She currently works as a Veterinarian in Big Lake, Alaska.
Jess and her husband Sam live with their 30-ish dogs on an airstrip near the Iditarod trail. They enjoy flying and caring for their hobby farm of chickens and Flemish Giant rabbits.
Jessica’s Website: www.tailwindkennels.com
Alison Lifka, age 27• Born in Ohio; Raised in North Carolina
Alison promised her seven-year-old self she would be back to Alaska one day as soon as she set foot in the 49th state on a family vacation. Twenty years later, about to run her rookie Iditarod run, I think it’s safe to say she is living the Alaskan dream.
Three days after graduating from Sweet Briar College (BS in Environmental Science) she headed for Alaska for reasons that mostly stemmed from “an internal struggle with the concept of settling into a predestined career”.
She first worked as a kayak guide in Prince William Sound, but now, she spends her winters handling for Iditarod mushers and summers giving sled dog rides on the Juneau Icefield.
“I had a vague desire to eventually run the Iditarod, but it was a bit like a fantasy, not very solid or fleshed out.”
Alison hopes to one day have a full kennel of her own, but for now, her 9-year-old Alaskan husky, Bear, is the only one that she personally owns. Though Bear will not be running the race, he is the team mascot and the namesake of Alison’s team: the Bear Necessities.
When not mushing, Alison can be found mountain biking, backpacking, kayaking and horse back riding. She also enjoys photography and archery.
Alison’s Website: www.bearnecessitiesmushing.com
Emily Maxwell, age 34 • born and raised in Iowa
Emily’s interest in dog mushing started in 2015 when she went on vacation with her brother and ended up meeting a guy in a Girdwood bar.
That guy, Nicolas Petite, changed the course of her life and got her interested in pursuing competitive dog mushing. Petite will be running his 9th Iditarod this year and finished in 2nd place overall last year.
Emily worked as a dropped dog volunteer for two years, before entering her first race last year. She will be running her friend Jessie Holmes’ dogs this year.
She has worked as a pilates instructor, waitress and long-haul truck driver and has degrees in Spanish, Journalism, and Literary Translation. She says her hobbies include surfing the bore tide.
Anja Radano, age 44 • born outside Munich; lives in Talkeetna, Alaska
Last year was Anja’s rookie race and she had two goals: 1. complete the race with a happy, healthy team 2. not be the “Red Lantern” (the last one in before they turn out the lights).
She met both goals, squeaking in 51st place out of 52 finishers.
Anja worked as a nurse in Germany for ten years before coming to Alaska as a tourist in 2003. And as it always does, Alaska took a little piece of her heart. She came back the following year to start her mushing career, and in 2008 she started her own kennel.
She went back to school in the US and now works as a licensed Vet Tech in Talkeetna where she lives with her husband Peter. She loves hiking, camping, and horses.
Anja’s Website: www.facebook.com/SwampDawgKennel
Jessie Royer, age 42 • grew up in Montana; lives in Fairbanks, Alaska
As far as we can tell, Jessie was meant to be a dog sledder. As a child, she harnessed her border collie to her goat with a horse harness and tried to get them to pull her around the Montana cattle ranch where she grew up. At age 17, she become the first female and youngest person ever to win Montana’s 500-mile Race to the Sky. She spent many years working with Susan Butcher and Dave Monson’s Riverboat Discovery demonstration in Fairbanks, AK.
She was rookie of the year in 2001 with her 14th place finish and this year marks her 17th run in the Iditarod. With six top-ten finishes in the Iditarod and a 9th place finish in the Yukon Quest just a few days ago, Jessie is definitely one to watch.
Jessie’s Website: www.huskypower.com/jessie
Sarah Stokey, age 30 • born and raised in Massachusetts; lives in Seward, Alaska
Sarah wanted to run the Iditarod since she watched Iron Will while staying home sick from school one day.
Sarah grew up with one dog: a black labrador retriever named Samantha whom she likens to Nana from Peter Pan. Her parents, however, would not let young Sarah have a whole team of dogs.
In the 5th grade, Sarah took things into her own hands: she emailed Iditarod legend Susan Butcher directly asking her for a dog team. Susan actually wrote her back saying she would love to help her get started! Sarah had things pretty well squared away when her mom found her emails and sabotaged the whole thing.
Sarah got a BA from Northeastern University in Sociology, before finally moving to Seward to pursue her dream. The following year, she met now-partner Travis Beals and they’ve been mushing ever since. This will be her second attempt at the Iditarod and Travis’s 6th.
Sarah spends summers running helicopter mushing tours out of Seward and winters training for the Iditarod and writing.
Sarah’s Website: www.TurningHeadsKennel.com
Shaynee Traska, age 30 • raised in Gladwin, MI
Shaynee is back for round two!
Shaynee’s aunt and uncle met Joe Redington, Sr when she was 9 years old. She declared that one day she would run the Iditarod as soon as they told her about the massive dog sled race. Another ridiculously determined child, by 14, Shaynee had already founded her own kennel and begun racing and training dogs.
Last year, she fulfilled that little girl’s dream finishing the race in 12 days, 16 hours, 8 minutes and 25 seconds.
She lives with her husband Jeremy Traska and their 40 children (AKA dogs).
Shaynee is super excited to be part of the “beauty and toughness” of the race again in 2019.
Shaynee’s Website: http://www.howlingridgekennel.com
Aliy Zirkle, age 48 • born in New Hampshire; lives in Two Rivers, Alaska
Last (alphabetically), but not even close to least, we have the legendary Aliy Zirkle.
Aliy graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in Biology and Anthropology. She was on the university’s track and field team which led to her being invited to the 1992 Olympic trials for the hammer throw.
This will be her 19th Iditarod IN.A.ROW. She has finished all 18 races so far with total prize money at almost half a million dollars. She won the Yukon Quest (the “World’s Toughest Sled Dog Race”) in 2000 and has come in 2nd in the Iditarod three time in a row! In 2016, she got hit by a snowmobile during the race and still came in 3rd.
She has been married to co-musher Allen Moore for 12 years and is incredibly passionate about her morning coffee (that’s my girl!).
And in case you’re still not sure Aily is tough, check out this article. It may be the most Alaskan thing Alaska has ever seen. And it definitely seals the deal on Aliy’s status as a legend: Post Iditarod Arm Wrestling Match Leaves Fan with Broken Bone.
Aliy’s Website: www.SPKDogLog.com
That’s it, folks. What do you think of the women Iditarod participants in 2019? Who’s the most inspiring? Favorites to win?