DeeDee Jonrowe – American kennel owner and dog musher
Against the Odds: Three weeks after finishing chemotherapy, DeeDee Jonrowe competed in the most grueling dog-sled race in the world.
By Whitney Homans
“You’re amazed by what you can do when you’re called upon, and those challenges have given me a feeling of self-esteem,” says DeeDee Jonrowe, who competed in her 27th Iditarod, the 1,150-mile dog-sled race across Alaska, after surviving breast cancer and a car accident that killed her grandmother and critically injured her and her husband. “I’ve looked at death unwillingly, so when I choose to take on adventure willingly, I’m not intimidated,” says Jonrowe, one of only a handful of women among the 100 Iditarod competitors. She is currently being featured in the Discovery Channel series Toughest Race on Earth: Iditarod, which followed her through last year’s race.
Here, she talks to PINK about racing three weeks after chemo and what she learned about life while sledding through Alaska.
PINK: How did you get involved in the Iditarod?
DeeDee Jonrowe: I lived in northwestern Alaska where there are no roads, and I got a little five-dog team so I could travel around the villages. Within a year, I was racing them.
PINK: Did you expect to race after cancer?
D.J.: I didn’t know what was going to happen. I had never had any experience with cancer. It was a lot worse than I thought. I had a double mastectomy and 22 lymph nodes removed – and nine months of chemotherapy. Being able to run that year was certainly a miracle. Because I took it easy [in recovery] and because I wanted [to race] so bad – since so many other things in my life had been out of control – I was able to do it and come in 18th.
PINK: How has competing made you a better woman, in general and in business?
D.J.: I think that any time you test yourself, set a goal that’s not easily reached, you find that there’s more to you than you ever imagined. And with a one-time adventure, you can throw yourself and your finances 100 percent after it. But when you’re trying to have a career, you can’t throw every penny at this. It can be very expensive. (I just spent $9,000 on meat, and they raised the entry fee this year to $1,800.) My goal each year is to break even, being able to provide quality of life for all my dogs and health insurance for me and my husband.
PINK: What’s the best advice you have for our readers?
D.J.: Be dreadfully honest with yourself about your likes and dislikes. I worked for the state of Alaska as a biologist and loved the field. I like being outdoors. But I was promoted to the point where I was managing the people [who were] doing the things I wanted to do. My heart wasn’t in it. The job paid well, and I would’ve retired by now, but my soul wasn’t there. I told my husband, “I need to reposition myself before I do a bad job.”
PINK: What was it like having the Discovery Channel follow you around with a camera?
D.J.: It reminded me to think about why I was really out there. It was almost like a spiritual retreat for me. I got to spend 10 uninterrupted days in God’s greatest country, and it gave me such reflection on how big God is, how awesome his creation is, with so few filters between me and God.
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