Jessica is a musher in the 2011 Iditarod.
Racied in the 2008 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

2006. Hendricks, 23, was born in Alaska and is one of the brightest young mushing talents. Rookie of the year in 2003.

The 2005 Tustumena 200 is one of the last mid-distance races before the Iditarod, and has become a high-profile proving ground. This year, two women highlighted the T-200, each with something very different to prove.

Jessica Hendricks wanted to test her dogs in this hilly race one last time before the Iditarod, while Rachael Scdoris – who is legally blind – explored the subtleties of distance racing in Alaska with the help of a visual interpreter. Hendricks dominated the race, crushing the competition. She finished a half hour ahead of Jeff King. Scdoris, meanwhile, was a leisurely 26th out of 30. Yet both women were thoroughly satisfied with the results.

Hendricks, rookie of the year in the 2003 Iditarod, isn’t a surprise front runner to those who’ve seen her team of dogs – descended from open class sprint lines – race over the last few years. But it was no small feat besting the likes of King, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Lance Mackey, Dean Osmar, Aliy Zirkle, Vern Halter, Mitch Seavey, Paul Gebhardt and other very talented teams.

King’s spirited team rolled in about a half hour behind Hendricks. As he set his hook, he said, “First in the men’s division – right?” breaking into a big smile.

King and other front-runners opted to ride the brake a little on the first half of the race, which traverses the scenic Caribou Hills before reaching a lodge for a mandatory six-hour break. Mushers take the same undulating trail back to the starting line, passing Lost Creek Lodge and Caribou Lake checkpoints on the way back. Hendricks did not hold back early, and her team maintained its pace on the hard-packed trail. “I tried to catch her, but she actually gained three to four minutes on me from Lost Creek to Caribou Lake," King said. "I thought, ‘This wasn’t going to come easy’”. He said Hendricks won the race in the first half by opening up such a huge lead. Even if King had done everything right, he said at the banquet, he would only have been about five minutes faster overall – not enough to reel her in.

Mushers at the finish were astonished at the speed, not just of Hendricks’ team, but their own. Most train for an Iditarod pace of 10 to 12 mph, not the 13 to 15 mph that they experienced. “These dogs aren’t trained to go this fast. This is a super fast trail,” King said.

Hendricks didn’t merely win. She set a withering pace through the first 100 miles, leaving some observers wondering if her dogs could hold the speed, or if they would fade, allowing other teams to pass. She reached the 45-mile mark at Caribou Lake in three hours and 15 minutes, a stunning time considering the trail’s up-and-down ascent over ridges and through creek bottoms from sea level to 1,500 feet. Sure, it was a fast year with hard-packed trail, exquisitely groomed before the race. But in most years, mushers take about an hour longer to reach that checkpoint. Did Hendricks intend to set such a blistering pace?

“No, I just wanted to be competitive. That’s why I race ‘em,” she said shortly after the finish, as her dogs gulped down raw beef thawed in hot water to form a red soup. “They gave me their hearts, everything they had,” the bashful musher from Two Rivers, Alaska, said at the banquet after she was awarded a first place check of $7,500.


Related Issue: Iditarod Racers, Women Racing Directory, Women in Racing, Women Racers, More Women in Racing, Notable Women

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