For the first time, 4 women mushers have finished in the Iditarod’s top 10

a musher outside with two dogs
Musher Mille Porsild shortly after arriving in Nikolai, a checkpoint in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

NOME – Four women dog mushers have finished in the top 10 of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the most ever in the thousand-mile race’s history.

Paige Drobny’s team arrived here in 5th place early Wednesday morning, followed by Mille Porsild in 7th, Amanda Otto in 8th and Jessie Royer in 10th.

It’s Drobny’s highest Iditarod finish in nine races. She commended the other three women in the top 10, but she said the fact that they’re women isn’t as important as it is that they’re great people and great dog mushers.

a musher
Musher Paige Drobny puts food in a bucket while preparing a meal for her dogs in White Mountain, a checkpoint for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Drobny finished the race in 5th place early Wednesday in Nome. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

While finishing up some chores in the dog lot Wednesday, she said that even if she hadn’t signed up to be anyone’s role model, she could see how her success in the Iditarod might be an inspiration for women or girls.

“I think it’s great to have people that can inspire other people to do things, like anything that gets people up and outside and excited about something,” Drobny said. “And so I appreciate that I can be that for some people, and that’s really cool.”

In 2019, Drobny had joined Aliy Zirkle and Jessie Royer in the top 10 by finishing 7th, her highest until now and the first time in race history there had been three women in the top 10. This year, it was Amanda Otto who broke into the top 10 as the fourth woman.

Musher Amanda Otto prepares to leave the Galena checkpoint in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 9, 2024. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Royer has finished as high as 3rd – doing so in back-to-back years, 2019 and 2020 – and she had hoped to do better than she did in this year’s race.

Like Drobny, Royer said the gender of the mushers doesn’t matter much to her. She hopes the message she sends is that anybody can accomplish difficult things if they try hard enough.

“Nothing is out of reach. If you want it, go for it. You have to work hard for it, but go for it,” Royer said. “That’s the thing. Too much of our society is like, ‘You can’t do that, you’re a girl. You shouldn’t do that.’ Or, you know, ‘You’re not good enough.’ Don’t listen to anybody. If you believe it, you can do it. Just work hard, believe in yourself and go do it.”

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Musher Jessie Royer in Nome after finishing the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 10th place Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

A teenage girl who many Iditarod mushers, officials and fans think will be following in the top 10 women’s footsteps is Emily Robinson, the three-time Junior Iditarod champion, who was in the finish chute Wednesday to see her father, Wally, finish the race.

After he arrived, they hugged for about 30 seconds, swaying back and forth, with tears in their eyes. Onlookers, including hardened mushers like Royer and Jessie Holmes, who finished in 3rd, also cried.

As for the four-woman top 10, Robinson said she was happy for Drobny, Porsild, Otto and Royer.

“I think it’s awesome that women are consistently getting into the top spots and just proving themselves, and we’ve proven ourselves for a long time, but to just continue to do that, I think, is incredible,” Robinson said.

a musher holds a sign that says Danger! Danger!
Junior Iditarod champion Emily Robinson holds a sign for her father, Wally, as he mushed to Nome and an 11th place finish in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Seeing women succeed in the Iditarod had inspired her to try hard at dog mushing, Robinson said.

“When I was watching dog mushing when I was younger, it was Aliy Zirkle who was out here crushing it,” she said. “To just be here on the streets of Nome, and to watch these mushers come in, and watch their dogs, I think it’s amazing, and it’s an amazing experience.”

Robinson said she plans to run the full Iditarod at some point. She’ll be eligible to enter as soon as next year, once she turns 18, but she said, realistically, it might be another year later, because she has to complete some other races to qualify.

Meantime, as Iditarod sled dog teams continue to arrive in Nome, there could be as many as seven women finishing in the top 20, if the positions of Josi Thyr in 15th, Jessica Klejka in 18th and rookie Gabe Dunham in 20th hold to the finish.

a portrait of a man outside

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him Read more about Caseyhere

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