Now Awards: There’s More to Iñupiaq Musher Apayauq Reitan Than Racing Dogs

Though Reitan made history this year by becoming the first openly trans woman to complete the Iditarod, this is far from her first great race. At only 24 years old, she’s done her fair share of competitive mushing. Reitan ran the Iditarod previously in 2019 under her deadname, before she was out as trans, and won Rookie of the Year in her debut Yukon Quest that same year.

“Part of the reason why I did [the Iditarod] again was I wanted to show the world that I am trans,” she explains. “I didn’t have anyone to look up to when I was a kid. When I was four years old, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a girl when I grow up.’ And nobody around me was like, ‘Hey, yeah, you can actually do that.’ I want the representation to be there.”

“I also wanted to show that being tough isn’t necessarily a masculine trait,” she continues. “I’m really inspired by other female mushers.”

Reitan’s mushing milestone is especially meaningful as it comes in the wake of devastating attacks on trans athletes. This year alone, over 25 states, including South Dakota and South Carolina, have introduced legislation barring trans children from playing sports on teams that match their gender. These bills specifically single out trans girls, claiming their exclusion from female teams is an act of “saving women’s sports,” while trans boys and even cis girls are technically allowed to join male sports. Policy makers have gone as far as to set the stage for testosterone measuring and the horrendous prospect of “genital inspections.”

“The bans are very concerning,” Reitan tells me. “They’re pushing to mainstream the idea that trans women are men. Ultimately, they’re doing all they can so that trans people don’t feel welcomed and part of society because they don’t want trans people to exist.”

Apayauq — her Iñupiaq name, which she began using exclusively when she came out — has been mushing since she was four years old. Her father is from Norway and her mother is Native Alaskan from Kaktovic. She spent her formative years going to school in Norway, but spent every other summer hunting dall sheep and enjoying the breathtaking wilderness of Alaska.

Reitan has mushing in her blood. “We had our dog team in Norway when I was growing up,” she says. “Dad had a dog mushing tourism business.” On her maternal, Indigenous side, her grandfather was a musher as well.

When asked about her relationship to her dogs, you can almost see Reitan’s eyes glimmer with affection. “They’re just so happy to be going on training runs, and they love to get pet. They’re just radiating joy,” she says. “It’s really amazing.” During her most recent Iditarod race, she competed with mostly yearling dogs from 2018 champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom’s B team. But, she points out with pride, she finished with three of her own dogs: Miles, Kent, and Apok.


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