Women mushers to girls: 'You can be anything you want to be'
Thursday is International Women’s Day, and here in Alaska, women are proving every day that they are just as tough-- competing in some of the most extreme sports in the world.
That’s certainly the case in the Iditarod. Out of the 67 mushers that started the race this year, 15 of them are women.
While mushing is still a male-dominated sport, some of the women on the trail say it's events like Iditarod that prove there’s no difference in what they can do.
For some, the Iditarod is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For others, like Shaynee Traska, it took nearly a lifetime to get to the point where she was ready to compete.
"This was my dream to run this race since I was 9-years-old. And it took a lot of time, a lot of hard work and patience. It wasn’t easy," the 29-year-old rookie said.
It's also not easy being a woman in a world dominated by male mushers.
"It’s a little intimidating coming into something with so many men," Traska said.
Luckily, she adds, former champions like Libby Riddles and Susan Butcher have paved the way for women in the race today.
"I have never noticed a difference between men and women as far as how I’ve been treated out there," Traska said. "Maybe I even had more support because I was a woman, and it was like ‘that’s pretty cool to see someone who’s young and a girl that wants to get into this sport.'"
Iowa native, Emily Maxwell, 33, is also a rookie in this year's race.
"It shows that we can do it just as well as any of the guys. And, I think the guys respect that," Maxwell said of her female colleagues.
"In general, girls get told that the things that boys can do. And you know, it’s not overt, but it’s always kind of there," Maxwell said. "I think it’s easy as a woman to doubt yourself because of that later in life."
So far, Maxwell says it's been nothing but camaraderie with her male colleagues. People outside the sport were more surprised by her race entry.
"I told the woman doing my hair I was doing the Iditarod, and she was like, 'Really? you do that?' she was like, 'you’re so pretty.' I was like you can be pretty and be a musher!" Maxwell laughed.
Now, she has something to prove.
"If I can do it, anybody can do it. So, don’t doubt yourself, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t," Maxwell said. "I don’t really consider what’s behind the sled so much as what’s in front of it."
It's a message Traska wants to share, too.
"To all the young girls out there, just do what you want to do. You can be anything that you want to be," Traska said.
Mushing the Iditarod isn’t easy for anyone, but the route is the same for everyone. And out on the trail, it's hard work that makes a win.
The last time a woman won the Iditarod was in 1990. That was Susan Butcher's fourth and final win.
Two of the women that started the 2018 Iditarod race have since scratched. DeeDee Jonrowe and Zoya Denure both dropped out for health reasons, leaving 13 women still on the trail.
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