Here’s the (actual) first Jewish woman to finish the Iditarod sled dog race

Here’s the (actual) first Jewish woman to finish the Iditarod sled dog race

Susan Cantor ran the Iditarod in 1992.
Susan Cantor ran the Iditarod in 1992.

We have a confession to make about the story on this page last week, “Blair Braverman is the first Jewish woman to finish the Iditarod sled dog race.”

It’s long been our least favorite sport.

Not the Iditarod race, which we never heard of before putting together last week’s page 3. (You can read two objections to the race from more knowledgeable readers in Letters.)

We mean this whole business of naming “first Jews” in a specific category. First Jew to win a $100 million baseball contract. First Jew to win the Iowa caucus. First Jew to co-write a book with a Pope. First Jew to be indicted for crimes related to a presidential campaign.

Among other things, these “first Jew” competitions require knowing the non-Jewish status of all the previous contestants. That’s easy enough when it comes to presidents, and even Iowa caucus winners and astronauts. When it comes to contests with more entrants, such as the Iditarod, it’s harder to say with certainty that none of them were Jewish.

That’s why there were some weasel-words in last week’s story — Blair Braverman was “apparently” the first Jewish woman to complete the race — but it turns out that the story could have used a few more.

Because in fact Blair Braverman wasn’t the first Jewish woman to finish the Iditarod sled dog race, as we mistakenly reported last week. That title goes to Susan Cantor, who completed the race in 1992.

Twenty-seven years before Braverman crossed the finish line, Cantor completed the grueling 1,000-mile course in 14 days, 1 hour, 42 minutes, and 42 seconds. She finished in 37th place.

In a telephone interview, Cantor, who lives in Chugiak, Alaska, confirmed that she was most likely the first Jewish woman to have finished the race.

“My husband ran first in 1991,” Cantor said. “I like to brag that I beat him by four days, and I think seven places.” (Jim Cantor, her husband, finished in 44th place, in 18 days and 2 minutes.)

Even though her husband had competed in the race the year before, Cantor explained, “I entered the Iditarod with more than the usual trepidation as I had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Happily, that was not a factor in my race nor in my life. I truly believe running Iditarod changed the course of my illness, giving me strength and new focus. I’ve enjoyed decades mushing with my dogs and my family.”

The Cantors first moved to Alaska after graduating from college.

“We went to Bethel, Alaska, to visit my husband’s brother,” Cantor said. “He had four sled dogs and a newborn baby. So we took over the management of the sled dogs. And that’s how I started.”

In the New York Times last fall, in a feature asking readers to submit pictures of dogs and weddings, Susan and Jim Cantor submitted a wedding photo with one of their dogs.

As they wrote captioning the photo, “Woodrow was our first dog. He moved with us from the University of Michigan to Alaska, back to Cornell University, and again to Alaska. He was an enthusiastic member of our early sled dog teams, a hobby we have kept up for 37 years. At our wedding, the rabbi would not allow Woodrow into the sanctuary, but he was allowed to attend the reception in the temple’s social hall. Woodrow’s checkered vest and bow tie were very stylish for 1983.”

Cantor still is deeply involved in the mushing community in Alaska; she’s on the board of directors at Chugiak Dog Mushers Association. Her children, now 21 and 24, raced with the junior mushers.

She also is involved in the Alaskan Jewish community: Cantor works as an event coordinator for Congregation Beth Sholom in Anchorage and is involved with Hadassah.

“Our synagogue once had fun with that, raffling off the opportunity to ride in a dogsled with a lifetime member of Hadassah!” she jokes.

Braverman never claimed to be the first Jewish woman to finish Iditarod, and after the race she told her Twitter followers about Cantor’s achievement.

And how does Cantor feel about Braverman, whose Twitter feed has made her one of the most recognized faces in the sport?

“I think it’s exciting Blair finished, she seems to be doing a great job as an ambassador for the race and the Jewish community,” Cantor said.

She added, “When I saw Blair come in on TV, she reminded me of myself.”

The feelings are mutual.

“I’m very proud to be in her company,” Braverman tweeted.


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