Wonder Woman is real, ladies and gentlemen, and her name is Roxy Wright.
The 66-year-old Athabascan and her team won the Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on February 26. It’s Wright’s fourth Fur Rondy title and further solidifies her place among such sprint mushing luminaries as George Attla, the Huslia Hustler; Roland “Doc” Lombard; five-time Fur Rondy champions Egil Ellis and Blayne Streeper; and Gareth Wright, her father.
Consider what makes her win so remarkable: Roxy Wright hadn’t mushed in the Fur Rondy since 1993; she won that year too, at age 42. Her son, two-time Iditarod runner-up Ramy Brooks, hadn’t yet mushed in his first Last Great Race back then. Her granddaughter, future Junior Iditarod musher Abby Brooks, hadn’t yet been born.
In addition to being the only woman to win the Fur Rondy, Roxy Wright is also now the oldest musher to win the race; the late, great Doc Lombard won his last Fur Rondy in 1974, at the age of 62. Roxy Wright is also the first woman to win the Open North American Championship in Fairbanks.
Upon Wright’s Fur Rondy win on February 26, one fan was moved to comment on social media: “Alaska -- where men are men and great-grandmothers win the Rondy World Championship.”
Roxy Wright’s combined time for the three 25-mile heats was 4:25:02, more than 2 minutes ahead of Buddy Streeper. Eighteen teams finished the race.
The course had good snow and trails were well groomed.
Roxy Wright and her team of 15 dogs led by 5 minutes after the first day. Streeper and team chipped away at that lead in day two. In the final 25-mile heat on day three, Roxy Wright and her 11 remaining dogs kept an aggressive pace on the course of roads, forests and open trails to hold onto the lead.
She won $12,250 and a gold-pan trophy.
Roxy Wright credited the win to her team’s “speed and endurance”; the dogs belong to sprint champion Arleigh Reynolds. But Wright’s grit and knowledge of dogs were big factors.
Roxy Wright trained with her team three to five times a week. “It’s really important to train just like any other athlete, human or animal -- push, rest, push, rest. That’s how you build endurance,” she said. She also made sure her team was familiar with the course – the bike paths, the tunnels, the overpasses. Once the lead dogs could see the open trail, there was no stopping the team, she said.
Mushing is part of Wright’s DNA. Alaska’s mushing trails were her ancestors’ highways. Her grandfather was dog handler and interpreter for Episcopal archdeacon Hudson Stuck (1865-1920), who chronicled his experiences in the Last Frontier in the book, Ten Thousand Miles With a Dog Sled: A Narrative of Winter Travel in Interior Alaska. Roxy Wright grew up with the Aurora huskies her dad bred from the Irish Setter, the St. Lawrence Siberian Husky, and village dogs – a line the daughter would care for and race in her own career. She was riding in her parents’ sled before she was old enough to run her own team. She’s as aware of each dog’s condition – from its gait to how it holds its ears – as she is the trail conditions ahead.
She and her team’s finish in Anchorage on February 26 roused the crowds – they cheered “Roxy! Roxy! Roxy!” -- and her first act was to embrace her lead dogs, 3-year-old Cloud and 2-year-old Pale.
"I had an awesome opportunity when Arleigh asked me if I could run 'em, help train the dogs," Roxy Wright told the Alaska Dispatch News. "They are amazing dogs. I feel very honored and privileged for the honor of getting to train them and run them."
It’s that love of dogs, the trail and competition that’s made her a champion in sprint and long-distance mushing. She finished the Iditarod in 1983 at age 32, won the Fur Rondy and the Open North American in 1989 at age 38, won the 621-mile Alpirod in Southern Europe in 1990 at age 39, and won the Fur Rondy and Open North American again in 1992 and 1993 at 41 and 42.
She spent the ensuing years training dogs and working on her land. Her active lifestyle kept her fit. “My entire life, I’ve always been really active – training dogs, hunting, fishing, berry picking.” Her fitness was an important factor when she returned to racing – first, some smaller races in Nenana and Yellowknife in 2013, then her return to the GCI Open North American Championship in 2016, in which she placed second.
Now, on March 17-19, Wright and team will compete in the 2017 Open North American in Fairbanks. A repeat of 1989 could be in the offing.
Luci Beach, former executive director of the Gwich'in Council Steering Committee, called Wright an inspiration for Alaska Natives and woman of all ages.
“She's one of many Alaska Natives that do not get proper credit,” she said. “Roxy is so humble, yet clearly Roxy rocks. I think Roxy is amazing and she is a true inspiration.”