Whatever the phrase, Blair Braverman appears to have done it.
She is the first Jewish woman to compete in the historic Iditarod sled dog race — much less complete it. She finished the grueling 1,000-mile course in 13 days, 19 hours, 17 minutes, and two seconds.
The 30-year-old musher crossed the finish line Sunday in Nome, Alaska, in 36th place — twice chai. Fourteen dogs pulled her sled.
“WE DID IT!!!!!!” she tweeted Sunday. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And also the most beautiful. The dogs and I took care of each other the whole way. Stories to come, but for now we plan to nap (and eat) for days. All dogs and humans are doing great.”
Last year, Braverman said that the Iditarod is “something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid.” She grew up in Davis, California, and now lives in northern Wisconsin with her husband, Quince Mountain. They run BraverMountain Mushing.
On Twitter, where she has a dedicated following of more than 70,000 people, Braverman tweets long-form stories. She writes her life — raising dogs, racing, and being the only Jew in her rural Wisconsin community. She’s become somewhat of an internet sensation: Her fans call themselves the “Ugly Dogs” after a Twitter troll told Blair to “Go back to your ugly dogs, Karen.”
In an NPR profile, Braverman said that she believes that she is so popular on Twitter because she makes an inaccessible sport seem, well, accessible.
She also reminds her followers time and again that almost all her sled dogs are Jewish — one isn’t. We don’t know why. Or, as she says, “They are proud Jewish sled dogs.” She also tweets about feeling “like a Jewish grandmother” when she watches her dogs eat.
“My dogs are my family,” she wrote in Vogue. “I love them like pets, but we also have a different, deeper connection that comes from relying on each other in the wilderness. That bond with my dogs — the love we share and the things we can do together — is the whole point of all of this.”
Braverman graduated from Colby College in Maine and received her master’s degree in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. In 2016, she published a memoir, “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North.” She also writes an advice column for Outside magazine called “Tough Love” and has contributed to Vogue, BuzzFeed, Smithsonian, and others.
“I’ve lived in places where I’m the only Jew, particularly in rural Norway,” she said. “And it’s dangerous, I think, for people to think they’ve never met certain kinds of people. Like if you think you don’t know any queer folks, or immigrants, or Jews — that’s how groups of individual humans are reduced to symbols and ideas. If I know someone, if I’ve lived with them, I don’t want them to be able to tell themselves that they’ve never met a Jew.”
Braverman joins a small group of Jews to have completed the Iditarod, now in its 47th year. In 2009, the Forward reported that 11 Jews have raced in the competition’s history; JTA could not verify that statistic independently.
The first Jewish musher to complete the race was Fred Agree, who raced in 1984 and 1985. His lead dog was named God, and his wheel dogs — the ones in the back — were named Sodom and Gomorrah because, as his wife, Nona Safra, said, “you should never look back.”
The 2011 Iditarod champion, John Baker, is of Jewish and Native Alaskan heritage. He is the only Inupiaq — and only Jew — to ever win the Iditarod. Baker competed in the Iditarod 22 times. His Jewish grandmother, Clara Levy, was born in 1914 in Kiana, Alaska. In 2002, Rabbi Mark Glickman traveled to Kotzebue, Alaska, for her funeral and wrote a moving account of her life and her family for Reform Judaism. (You can google for it. It’s worth reading.)
Jake Berkowitz is a three-time Iditarod finisher (in 2008, 2009 and 2013); he now covers the race for the Anchorage Daily News. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Forward reported that he attended Talmud Torah of St. Paul Jewish day school and studied at Hebrew University for a year.
Braverman’s fans were vocal in their support for her throughout the race. They also started a campaign to support Alaskan schools as she races (naming the campaign “Igivearod”). As of this writing they have raised more than $80,000 for Alaskan teachers and schools, funding more than 100 projects.
Braverman had no idea that her fans were going to take on the fundraising project.
After finishing the race, she tweeted, “A few hundred miles into the race, teachers started hugging me in villages. ‘We haven’t been able to buy new glue sticks in six months, but now my classroom will have a garden and a project to get girls into engineering!’ one woman told me. I happy cried all the way up the Yukon.”