DEEDEE Ann (Stout) JONROWE
DEEDEE Ann (Stout) JONROWE
Jonrowe is a kennel owner and dog musher who is a three-time runner-up in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and holds the fastest time ever recorded for a woman. She is the only musher who competed in both the Iditarod and the Alpirod for three straight years (1992, 1993, and 1994).
She moved to Alaska in 1971 with her family. Jonrowe received a BS in Biological Sciences and Renewable Resources from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In 1977, Jonrowe married Mike Jonrowe.
By 1979 Jonrowe had a kennel with 25 dogs. She is a founding member of Mush with PRIDE (Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment).
Jonrowe’s public battle with breast cancer in 2002 cast her as an inspirational role model. As a result, in 2003, she became an honorary chairperson for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
The 2015 Sockeye Fire burned Jonrowe’s dog kennel in Willow. However, she and Mike were able to save all of their animals.
Jonrowe is most proud of the awards won for dog care, including the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian award, awarded by the veterinarians of the Iditarod for the musher who has provided the best care and treatment to their dogs.
She has been a spokesperson for the Winter Special Olympics and the National Girl Scouts Council and received the YWCA’s Alaska Woman of Achievement Award.
Retired from dog mushing in 2018, she continues to advocate for quality cancer care in Alaska for everyone. From 2020, she has participated in rescue missions from Kodiak, Fairbanks, and beyond. In addition, Jonrowe is a special correspondent for Alaska’s New Source on the Iditarod Trail.
She co-wrote the book Iditarod Dreams, prepping for the 1993 and 1994 Iditarod races with Lew Freedman.View Extended Bio Close Extended Bio
DeeDee Ann Jonrowe was born on December 20, 1953, in Frankfurt, Germany to U.S. Army officer Kenneth Oliver and Peggy Ann Stout. Jonrowe was schooled overseas in military schools and finished high school in Virginia.
In 1971 Jonrowe moved to Alaska, where her father was stationed at Ft. Richardson. Jonrowe was 17 and didn’t want to move to Alaska. “I couldn’t think of any fun thing to do”, Jonrowe said. “We’d never lived in cold weather, and I was bummed out and just wanted to get out of here as soon as I could. And by Christmas, I was so in love with the adventure and freedom of the state of Alaska that I never really ever considered moving again, I just love this place.” So began the saga of Jonrowe, the worlds’ foremost female dog musher. But before Jonrowe put in thousands of miles on the Iditarod Trail, she traveled thousands of miles by snow machine, river boat, and canoe working for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
In the days of the oil pipeline, when most workers were flocking to high paying North Slope jobs. Many people tried to discourage Jonrowe from working for Fish and Game. At the time, there were not a lot of women working in biologist positions, nor were there female-friendly facilities in the field. Less people were going into resource management, and even less people were taking jobs in western Alaska. After Jonrowe received a B.S. in Biology Sciences and Renewable Resources from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Jonrowe took a leap of faith, and started out in 1974 as an entry level Fishery Biologist. That leap became the opportunity of a lifetime.
Jonrowe started working for Rae Baxter, where she struck mentorship gold. “Rae was a peculiar man, in a good way, He was determined to see women succeed because he had seen the struggles his wife had in being taken seriously in a male dominated field. So, he was determined to not only have a competent women on the payroll, but he wanted to teach me everything he knew, every wilderness survival trick in the book. I was a willing student.”
Not too long after, her love affair with dog mushing began. Jonrowe gathered a small dog team so she could better attend village meetings in the Bethel area, which were usually accessible by snow machine. Her genuine respect for the culture she was working with earned her the respect from the locals. “Everybody has their own gift, and I felt like mine was to learn to relate to people, because I really love to work with people. For me, it was all about respecting the resources, being honest, and respecting the people we work with. Working with the Native people in the Bethel area was just phenomenal. I loved the people out there, and it was while I was in Bethel that I met my husband, who was also working for ADF&G as a fisheries biologist.” She and Mike Jonrowe married in 1977.
Jonrowe balanced her active biologist career with running dogs in the evening and on weekends. Her time spent in Bethel and at ADF&G was remarkable preparation for the thousand-mile race. Jonrowe got her first top ten finish training out of Bethel, and she likely would have not been so well-prepared for a thousand-mile rase had it not been for her experiences at Fish and Game.
“I loved being a game biologist because I worked with the trappers tagging beavers, and in the summer I would float streams and do beaver cache counts. Commercial fishing management was my favorite. I flew stream surveys and managed the fishery from inside a boat. Every time there was an opening, I was in the boat running up and down the district, looking in people’s boats, talking to them, asking how it was going. I spent hundreds of hours on the water. I felt like a woman, breaking into this field, I needed to relate to them in a way they could look me in the eye, and they knew I knew what I was talking about. They gave me validity. That gave me the street cred – river cred – if you will.”
Whether it was her field crew or dog team, Jonrowe took the role of player/coach. “I didn’t ask crew members to do anything I wasn’t willing or hadn’t done myself. I worked closely alongside the crew to show I had the expertise to do what it was I was asking them to do.” Jonrowe’s motto was to lead by example and stay positive. “Rae and I built a 250-foot weir across the Holitna River, the first of the major weirs of its kind. We moved over 15,000 pounds of steal and 50 drums of gas, all by ourselves. Many nights I laid in the bottom of my tent with my back aching, but I was determined to not say a word. This was my golden opportunity, and I was so grateful.”
Jonrowe’s tenacity for the outdoors followed her to Mekoryuk, where she lived for one month monitoring walrus and muskox for ADF&G. “Snow machining from Bethel to Nelson Island to look for herds of muskox was one of the trips I’ll never forget. I ended up with snow blindness and in the hospital for one week. Jonrowe stayed with the department until the fall of 1983 when her thirst for more adventure prompted her to seek other opportunities. “I wanted to spend even more time in the field. Many of us go into fisheries and wildlife management because we love to be outside, gathering the data and doing the fieldwork. As biologists we get more experienced, we usually get taken out of that environment and stuck in offices to write reports, when in fact that was never what we like anyway.”
After Jonrowe’s tenure with ADF&G, she commercial fished her own boat in Norton Sound, fished for salmon in Bristol Bay, and worked as a sport fishing guide in the Talkeetna and Susitna Drainage. To this day, Jonrowe looks back fondly at her time working for Fish and Game. “A lot of my success on the Iditarod has to do with what I learned from those jobs. I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
The hallmarks that rang true for Jonrowe in the 1970s still stands today. Zest for adventure and courageous determination meshed with Alaska toughness and the spirit of teamwork make for both an Iditarod star and a Fish and Game legend. “I love how you can invent yourself to be whatever it is you’ve dreamed of. It was true back in those days, and it’s true now. You just have to work hard at it.”
By 1979, Jonrowe was living in Bethel and was a kennel owner with 25 dogs. Her mother, Peggy was excited about volunteering in the early races and attended every Iditarod start until 2015, when she passed away. In 1980, Jonrowe competed in her rookie Iditarod race. She undertook the building of her own sled, a comprehensive breeding program and training programs for her dogs, and a rigorous fitness program for herself. By the time Jonrowe ran the Iditarod in March she and her dogs had logged almost 2000 miles of training together.
Jonrowe is one of the foremost female dog mushers competing in the world today. In 1978, Jonrowe competed in her first dog sled race, the Women’s Fur Rendezvous World Championship in Anchorage. She has sixteen top ten finishes in her career. Her second-place finish in 1998 was the fifth fastest Iditarod time ever recorded at that time. In addition to the Iditarod, Jonrowe has competed and won most major dog sledding races throughout her career, including the Copper Basin 300 (which she won in 2001), the Klondike 300, and the John Beargrease Dog Sled Race. Jonrowe has run a total of 36 Iditarod races. Although Jonrowe has never won the race, she has finished in the Top Ten 16 times. Jonrowe is the only musher who competed in both the Iditarod and the Alpirod (European Staged Race) for 3 consecutive years. She has also ran the Boston Marathon in 2006, the Iron Man in Kona, HI in 2006, the Mt. Marathon race 10 times, the Crow Pass race, the Matanuska Peak Challenge and the Mayor’s Marathon.
Jonrowe has won many awards for the care of her dogs; she is most proud of the Leonhard Seppala Humanity award given by staff veterinarians of the Iditarod for the musher who has provided the best care and treatment to their dogs. As her dogs are her top priority, Jonrowe became a founding member of the organization Mush with P.R.I.D.E. (Promoting Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment). In early December 1991, dog mushers in the Interior of Alaska tentatively decided to form a group dedicated to improving the care the sled dogs and promoting a positive image for the sport. The action was prompted by concerns that real problems existed for some dogs, and that public perceptions were being determined only by animal rights fanatics. A steering committee was formed and by May of 1992, they were ready to formalize the organization with four specific objectives. These were establishing guidelines for sled dog care, sharing information about dog care within the mushing community, educating young people and promoting public understanding of sled dog uses. The steering committee also named the organization, and Mush with P.R.I.D.E. (Promoting Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment) was founded. This exhibits the commitment to set the standards for all aspects of sled dog care.
Jonrowe co-wrote the book Iditarod Dreams with Lew Fredman, about prepping for the 1993 and 1994 Iditarod races.
Jonrowe’s 2nd-place finish in 1998, with a time of 8 hours, 26 minutes, and 10 seconds is the fastest time recorded for a woman and the fifth fastest time recorded at the time.
In 1996, an automobile accident outside of Fairbanks, Alaska killed her grandmother, and both Jonrowe and her husband were hospitalized. She trained while recovering from her injuries, and placed 4th in the 1997 Iditarod race.
In 1999, while racing the Iditarod, she was unable to get her dogs go into a strong headwind which caused her to scratch for the first time.
In July 2002, pioneering musher Jonrowe was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through a double mastectomy and three weeks after completing her chemotherapy, competed in the Iditarod, placing 18th. An amazing feat! The story was widely publicized, and in 2003 Jonrowe won the Most Inspirational Musher Award and was named the honorary chair of the Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. The pink outer parka used by DeeDee Jonrowe during many of her sled dog races and Iditarod runs after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, is displayed in the Smithsonian Institute.
In 2003, Jonrowe became the honorary chairperson for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, assisting the organization in its fundraising efforts. Jonrowe’s humanitarian efforts have been well-documented, having been given the YWCA’s Alaska Woman of Achievement Award, the Most Inspirational Musher award, and being spokesperson for the National Girl Scout Council and Winter Specific Olympics.
Dog mushing in Alaska can be hazardous. According to Women Warriors, in 2004, Jonrowe said, “I’ve had back surgery, frozen my shoulder, broken my hand…I think I’ve had every single cold related injury. I haven’t had any amputations, but I have had severe frostbite on my fingers, cheeks and nose. I even frostbit my corneas some years ago.”
In 2007, while running the 35th Iditarod race, Jonrowe was forced to scratch after suffering from hand and other injuries after sustaining a fall near the Rainy Pass checkpoint.
In 2015 the Sockeye Fire, one of the most damaging wildfires, was active from June to July 2022. The fire was first reported on June 14, after a local resident called 9-1-1 to report heavy smoke in a wooded area near Willow, along the Parks Highway. Dry conditions in the area along with the prevailing winds caused the fire to quickly spread. By the morning of Monday, June 15, the fire had grown to over 6,500 acres, and had destroyed 40–45 structures, roughly half of which were primary homes occupied by residents, with the other half being described as “secondary structures”. Local schools and churches were used as emergency shelters. In addition to Willow, air quality has been affected in the communities of Nancy Lake, Houston, and Big Lake. The fire impacted the sled dog teams living in the area, with as many as 4,500 dogs moved away from the impacted areas. Other sled dogs, owned by local participants of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and their mushing events, perished in the fire. A local kennel owned by veteran Iditarod musher DeeDee Jonrowe was destroyed. Jonrowe also lost her home, but she was not injured. Jonrowe did not lose any animals in the fire. “When challenged by the Sockeye fire, I had very little time to evacuate. Instinctively, I grabbed the most important things in my life, my dogs. Besides a few guns we lost everything we have ever owned, all our records, we only saved our dogs. That is the deepest value I placed on them”.
For the past 3 years, Jonrowe has been a member of the Solstice Search Team and is currently training her dog, Phoenix, for wilderness find.
DeeDee has been profiled in such media outlets as Sports Illustrated, Redbook, and Outside magazines. She is a published author and is currently pending another book profiling her comeback from cancer to race again.
Only a few Iditarod mushers have become legendary, and Jonrowe is one of them.
Awards received by Jonrowe
1981 Iditarod Sportsmanship Award (chosen by other mushers)
1991 Iditarod Dorothy Page Halfway Award (1st to Iditarod)
1991 Iditarod Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Aware ((best dog care in top 10)
1993 Iditarod Most Inspirational Musher Award (chosen by other mushers)
1997 Iditarod Joe Redington, Sr. Award (drawing)
2001 Copper Basin 1st Place
2003 Iditarod Most Inspirational Musher Award (chosen by other mushers)
Freedman, Lew; Jonrowe, DeeDee. (1995). Iditarod Dreams: A year in the life of Alaskan sled dog racer DeeDee Jonrowe. Epicenter Press. ISBN 0-945397-29-1.
DeeDee Jonrowe’s Website
Facebook – DeeDee Jonrowe
Mush with P.R.I.D.E. site
Candice Bressler, Program Coordinator Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Wikipedia – DeeDee Jonrowe
Wikipedia – Sockeye Fire