Mary Shields

Second Recipient of the Women Who Dared

Gratitude Award  

Mary Shields arrived in Alaska from Wisconsin in 1965 to work with the Campfire Girls. She fell in love with Alaska and returned a couple years later after finishing her degree. She started out living in a wilderness log cabin and learned the value of self-reliance.  Sled dogs became part of her life to help with her remote lifestyle.
Always ready for adventure, Mary heard about a 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome and signed up. The fact that the Iditarod International Sled Dog Race was a man’s world didn’t even register in her thought process. However, on the first day of the race a man on the side of the trail yelled, “You better turn around now, you’ll never make it to Nome.”  These words ended up to be a gift that strengthened her determination to keep going through frost bite, overflows, freezing temperatures, drifting snow, and sleep depravation.

Photo by Jim Andersen

Women in many of the villages were betting against their men that she would make it to  to their checkpoint.  As Mary entered the villages she was met with resounding cheers from the women. After these emotional encounters, she realized that she was racing for more than herself. After 28 days, Mary pulled into Nome where a banner was held aloft saying, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”  Mary was the first woman to finish this historic race.  She proved that gender did not decided the outcome, what really mattered was the partnership between musher and their dogs and the fortitude to rise above adversity.

Photo by Jim Andersen

So after a short celebration, they mushed all the way back to Galena before warming weather and melting river ice forced them to fly back to Fairbanks.

Mary continued to explore the wilderness with her dogs.  Another race adventure presented itself in 1984 when the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon, was started. Mary ran in the inaugural race and in the 1986 and 1988 races.
Continuing her international mushing, Mary participated in the Hope 1991 Race covering a 1,200-mile remote journey from Nome, Alaska to Anadyr, Russia.
In 2015, Mary was given the opportunity to speak at the Iditarod start line. “This is a message from a musher who just like you, was waiting to take off on the second Iditarod, forty-one years ago. Every musher around the world wishes they could be in your shoes. Every time you harness your dogs, put your parka on, remember every minute of it. The years pass and you’ll wonder where all the time went. Take good care of yourself and remember every minute.”

Photo by Patrick Enders

Today, Mary runs Tails of the Trail, a tourism venture that brings guests to her home and kennel in Goldstream Valley outside Fairbanks.



There she and her happy huskies share their unique stories delighting visitors from around the world.




Photo by Carol MacIntre

Thank you Mary for breaking trail for all the women who follow in your sled tracks. Happy Trails!


To find out more about Mary check out her website at:







Mary Shields shares some thoughts at the Tribute.
Photo by Carol Johnson

Mary’s Gratitude Award was presented on March 31, 2017 at the Fairbanks Community/Dog Mushing Museum.


 Over 75 friends and community members attended to celebrate Mary.

Mayor Kassel shares a story about Mary.
Photo by Carol Johnson
FNSB Mayor Karl Kassel congratulates Mary.
Photo by Carol Johnson
City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly congratulates Mary Shields.
Photo by Carol Johnson


Some of the many friends attending Mary’s Celebration.
Photo by Carol Johnson


The Women Who Dared Gratitude Award and Tribute Plaque can viewed at the Fairbanks Community/Dog Mushing Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska.






“Just a quick note from the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) thanking you for honoring Mary Shields for her accomplishment of being the first woman to finish the Iditarod in 1974.  It was a historic moment for sure and one that will forever be remembered by many. ” Stan Hooley, CEO Iditarod Trail Committee


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