Meet: Libby Riddles, first woman to win the Alaskan Iditarod race
Libby Riddles is a champion sled dog racer who was the first woman to win the Iditerod, the gruelling, thousand mile dog sleg race across Alaska. Today she continues to race and also conducts lectures, produces films, and writes about her adventures. Her business card reads, Musher, Author, Speaker.
Although you might not think so at first, math and science are important in my career. First of all, as a small business owner, math and accounting skills keep my records straight. With the dogs, one of the most scientific aspects is the nutrition, which requires math to figure out proportions & calories per kilogram on different foods, etc. Working with the dogs also requires a lot of scientific principals, especially with the equipment. Mushers are always inventing new devices and instruments to help with racing faster and more efficiently. Understanding the health & well being of the dogs, and of ourselves as atheletes, is another science aspect.
Most days for me begin very early with a cappuccino. My fifty dogs are given broth first thing in the morning and then the yard is cleaned. Then I spend a couple hours on the phone and attending to business issues. In between I have some breakfast and then it's time to hit the trails and run the dogs. Then there is usually a break to refuel and relax for an hour, then the dogs are fed dinner. Evenings is when I write and catch up on all my other projects.
The most enjoyable part of my career is working with dogs. You have to love dogs in this business. After over 20 years of doing this, I'm still having a great time with it. I also love all the traveling I get to do and the great people I meet. I also enjoy the outdoors and this profession enables me to spend a great deal of time outside instead of being inside an office all day.
I have always related to animals well. I was a natural writer, even as a child, but didn't have much confidence. That came with experience, and by being successful with smaller goals. I fell into dog mushing after coming to Alaska. I could see it would be the best kind of animals to have up here. I always knew I would have a lot of animals. My books "Storm Run" and "Race Across Alaska" go into my work and love for animals in much more depth.
I never felt pressured not to pursue this career or intimidated because it was typically a mans career. The hardest part of my career has been to live with very little money. It is expensive to keep sled dogs, and if you are working all winter, it's hard to have time to train them. In the beginning I started only working in the summer and taking the winter at a cabin out of town, with no running water or electricity in the bush of Alaska. There I could work with the dogs in a remote area with little money. As you can imagine it was a lot of hard work - both physical & psychological stress.
I come from a large family but most of them live down in the states. Some of my other interests include playing the guitar and singing, traveling, sewing, beadwork, geology, dancing, boogie-boarding, down - hill skiing, cats, berry-picking, snorkeling and much more... I have volunteered as an International Board member for the Arctic Winter Games for seven years. It expanded my knowledge of other sports immensely, and I got to contribute as a representative for Alaska. I also do some volunteer work for other groups, especially Friends of Pets, the Alaska Lung Association and others.
In some ways, I think I was lucky, and the fates tossed me in the right direction, but it is important to know at whatever age that we are all capable of forging a life of our choosing. We have freedoms these days that people of other times and places never dreamed of, so we might as well use them. Like they say,
"If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there?"On the other hand, I think it's important for young people to spend those years being kids and finding out what kinds of things they like without having to worry too much about their future. If you have the chance to explore and see what things there are to do out there (one of the major purposes of education) and then follow where you feel the most passion, the future tends to take care of itself.
An inspiring thought to leave you with...The founder of the Iditarod, Joe Reddington Senior came out of retirement to race in the 25th Anniversary running of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. He finished thirty five out of sixty some racers, and was a bit upset he hadn't finished better in this thousand mile race. Joe was 82 yrs old at the time!