• Motivational Speaker
Libby Riddles was born in Madison, WI on April 13, 1956, to parents Willard and Mary Riddles. She grew up in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest
Riddles spent most of her time outdoors. She knew at 5 years old that she wanted to have a life with animals. She wanted to live in the wilderness and would scheme how to do it and have lots of animals, mostly horses and cats. She was not keen on dogs. But this little girl’s dream about living a life surrounded by animal that eventually led her to Alaska – and the Iditarod.
By the time she was 16 , Riddles worked all winter to saving money from a day job and finished the last 2 years of high school in 6 months by going to night school. When she was done she followed her dreams and moved to western Alaska. She immersed herself in the native culture. “What place could be wilder than Alaska”? Riddles still says “it’s the best thing I ever did”. Riddles will tell you she got her adventurous spirit from reading. Reading gave her the imagination that she could have the lifestyle she wanted, and the courage to learn it, if she didn’t know how to do it.
Riddles was “green” but jumped right in, embracing living off the land and the lifestyle of the native people. Riddles learned to moose hunt and helped build a cabin. She also got dogs. Dogs make the most sense when living in the wild. They can transport meat, and people and mail. She got huskies because they think like cats and are very independent. Now she was responsible for her dogs, just like she was responsible for herself living in the wild. Anything could happen and become a life or death situation.
She taught herself how to mush with a 4-dog team. Riddles learned by watching others, and from doing it. As she learned she added dogs. She would take the dogs all over the place and be gone for hours. She started putting notes on her door in case she did not home as expected. It is dangerous and you must keep your guard up at all times.
One day a friend suggested she enter a 5-dog sprint race in the Kenai area. She won!. “After that I got it in my head I could do this Iditarod thing.” She had already been helping teams get ready for the race. It takes a lot of work and a lot of help. “Watching their dog team take off across that lake, knowing they are going on a 1,000 mile trip, that just totally hooked me!”
The first Iditarod Sled Dog Race Riddles ran was in 1980. It was a tough year and almost half the mushers scratched. Riddles was a rookie, didn’t know the difference, and kept on racing. She came in 18th place and was very proud of that finish. The race was also an education. Riddles thought to herself, “Why did I do that? It’s the craziest thing in the world, but also what have I learned, how can I do better the next time? Right away scamming on coming back to run the race again.”
She ran the race again in 1981 finishing 2 days faster but in 20th place. She knew she was going to have to step up and get serious. For both the 1980 and 1981 run she had used experienced dogs from top mushers. Riddles now had the experience to know what she wanted in a dog and started breeding huskies. She was living in Teller and had about 30 dogs.
While working a fish job in Teller, Riddles met Joe Garney. A dog breeder himself, who lived north of Nome and also had about 30 dogs. After her job in Teller was over she moved to Nome. They started combining dogs to make the best team.
Those were the building years. In 1984, Joe ran the Iditarod, with the team, and finished in 3rd place. In 1985 it was her turn to run the team in the race. She knew she had a good team and she trusted them 100%. The pressure was all on her and she questioned if she was a good enough musher, could she handle what is going to happen out there?…
“When the 1985 Iditarod Trail Sled dog Race began, Libby Riddles was a virtually unknown musher living in Teller, a remote village in Western Alaska. When the race ended, she was an international celebrity. By braving a storm that no other musher challenged, Riddles became the first woman to win the would’s most significant sled dog race.
During a year of terrible storms that periodically interrupted the event, the leading mushers halted in a village check point. Only Riddles, who placed 18th and 20th in previous Iditarods, seized the moment and set out on the iffy trail beyond Shaktoolik. Taking over first place, Riddles and her dogs negotiated a path through blowing snow in numbing cold. When visibility vanished, she zipped herself into her sled bag and spend an anxious night alone in the wilderness.
When the storm ceased, Riddles maintained her lead all the way to Nome, finishing in 18 days. Riddles was instantly hailed as a woman of spirit and courage.
“I felt an amazing sense of achievement and great sense of camaraderie and pride with my dogs,” Riddles said in a 1999 interview with NASA Quest, I also felt like it wasn’t just a victory for women but for the people in the Native village who has sponsored me. It was a great feeling to have them believe in me and come through.”
It is widely acknowledged that Riddles’ triumph was one of the race’s pivotal moments, broadening the Iditarod’s fanbase while inspiring women and the creation of t-shirts reading “Alaska: Where Men are Men and Women win the Iditarod.”
There after, Riddles wrote the acclaimed Race Across Alaska and two children’s books. She is still involved with sled dogs through her Blazing kennels in Honer. Riddles shares her story as a presenter for Princess Cruises and as a motivation speaker”. – Lew Freedman, Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
She was so unknown that the press called her “Libby Teller from Riddles, Alaska.”
“How was I going to keep going? But I just didn’t want to sit there and hesitate because all the other mushers were going to catch up. I felt I had worked hard to build up the lead.” She talked to Joe and the elders in Shaktoolik. “I had to try it or I couldn’t live with myself.” She started out on the trail with 3 hours of daylight left. “I’m thinking, people die in these blizzards. I’ve camped out in storms before, I know what I’m doing, my dog team is ready to do it, let’s go for it!” – Libby Riddles
“I’m taking a chance going out in this kind of weather, might be hard on my leaders and stuff, but right now I’m at the point, I either take a chance or the heck with it. Ya know, gotta do it”. – Libby Riddles
“LIBBY DID IT! that is was the headline plastered across the front page of the Anchorage Times. On March 20th, 1985, Libby Riddles made history. She became the first woman to win the grueling 1,049-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race, after a daring move across Norton Sound in a deadly blizzard.
The feat captured the attention of the nation, and people all over the world began to pay attention to the sport of dog mushing. Joe Redington, the “Father of the Iditarod “
told the press, “She went out in that storm when nobody else would move. She is a great musher…… She done it the hard way”.
In addition to her win, she gave credibility to the sport by receiving the “Sportswoman of the Year” Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation, and a Victor Award for Excellence in Sports.
She has been honored with Humanitarian Awards for Best Treatment of Dogs in the Iditarod and other races.
Today, Riddles continues to raise and train sled dogs, and is one of the top Alaskan presenters for Princess Cruises. She shares her mushing experiences and the award winning books she has written about her adventures. “Race Across Alaska” is one of the foremost books written about the Iditarod. “Danger the Dog Yard Cat” and the auto-biography “Storm Run” are favorite Alaskan children’s books and are used in thousands of classrooms.
She has been a role model for women and girls from the start, encouraging them to design the life they want, to work hard for your goals and be all you can be. She made a unique life for herself, and inspires others to do so as well”. – Libby Riddles
Additional Awards Riddle has received:
1988 – Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association.
2007 – Inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
Arctic Winter Games International, board member, 1990-97 Member Iditarod Trail committee.
Riddles sled is now held in the collections of the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.
- ^ Riddles, Libby; Tim Jones (1988). Race across Alaska: first woman to win the Iditarod tells her story (illustrated ed.). Stackpole Books. ISBN0-8117-2253-8. Retrieved 2009-05-07. “Libby Riddles.”
- ^ Riddles, Libby; Shannon Cartwright (2002). Storm Run: The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Illustrated by Shannon Cartwright (revised, illustrated ed.). Sasquatch Books. ISBN1-57061-293-5. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
- ^ Riddles, Libby; Shelley Gill; Shannon Cartwright (2002). Danger: The Dog Yard Cat. Illustrated by Shannon Cartwright (illustrated, reissue 4 ed.). Paws IV Pub. ISBN0-934007-20-9. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
- ^ Pardes, Joan (2000-06-29). “Entertaining the tourists”. The Juneau Empire. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
- ^ “Libby Riddles’ Iditarod Victory: 2007 Induction into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame”. Conoco-Phillips Building atrium, downtown Anchorage: YouTube. Feb 3, 2007.
- ^ Riddles, Libby (January 28, 1999). “Female Frontiers QuestChat Archive”. NASA Quest > Archive. Archived from the original on June 25, 2010.