Royer, Zirkle & Drobny place in the top 10, making Iditarod history
While the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was largely a Peter Kaiser, Joar Leifseth Ulsom showdown overnight Wednesday — with Kaiser claiming the championship — Jessie Royer has been a consistent member of the top three throughout the race.
The veteran musher from Idaho crossed the finish line in third place at 9:34 a.m. Wednesday with 11 dogs in harness.
She was followed into Nome by fan-favorite musher Aliy Zirkle, who reached the burled arch at 5:26 p.m., securing a fourth-place finish with 11 dogs in harness.
Further back, Paige Drobny and her team took home a seventh-place finish, arriving in Nome at 9:09 p.m. The feat marks a significant improvement from her best Iditarod finish, 25th place in 2014.
Together, the three women made Iditarod history Wednesday: It's the first time three female mushers have placed in the top 10.
"Women can do anything that men can do and dog mushing is a sport that we can all enjoy," Drobny said during an interview under the burled arch, adding, "it’s about the dogs, so I’m happy to be here with my team."
Women have been competitors in the race almost since it began. A year after the first race in 1973, Mary Shields was the first woman to complete it. Just over a decade later, Libby Riddles would be the first woman to win the Iditarod in 1985. She would be followed by mushing great Susan Butcher, a four-time Iditarod champion who won in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990.
In 1991, 2005 and 2012, three women placed in the top 11. In 2011, women finished in the 10th, 11th, and 12th places.
Most recently, in 2017, both Zirkle and Royer placed in the top 10 — Royer in fifth place and Zirkle in eighth.
If you ask, Royer will be the first to tell you she doesn’t care for the extra attention paid to women’s success in the Iditarod.
“I just think everybody makes too big of a deal about women out on the trail,” she said during her 24-hour stay at the Takotna checkpoint. “[…] I don’t think most of us women care. We’re just out here doing what we love to do, you know? And I don’t feel any different or any more special than the guys, honestly.”
Even so, the fact that their accomplishments are inspiring is undeniable. At the Unalakleet checkpoint, a local girl happily chatted about her favorite mushers, naming a handful of women who’ve competed in the Iditarod, including Zirkle.
According to official race records, the percentage of female mushers is increasing.
This year, 17 of the 52 mushers taking off from the official starting line in Willow were women. As of Wednesday evening, four of them had scratched, three had crossed the finish line in Nome and 10 more were still on the trail.
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