Mary Shields was one of two women to run the
second Iditarod in 1974.
Related Issue: Iditarod
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Mary Shields of Salcha, Alaska, learned about
perseverance from running dogs. She and Lolly
Medley were groundbreakers when they ran Iditarod
in 1974. That was the second year of the race, but
the first year for women to enter - and finish. At
the starting line, someone hollered, 'You better
turn around now, you'll never make it." Shields
recalled. "That meant for sure I was going to."
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
Cabbage was Mary's first sled dog of her own.
Eventually her team grew, and on March 4th, 1974,
Mary entered the Iditarod. She had a team of eight
dogs, the smallest team in the entire race.
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.
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©1996-2017 by of Gordon Clay