Doctors Nat Strand and Kat Chang are the show's first all-female team to win in 17 seasons
Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBS

It took 17 seasons but an all-female team finally finished first on The Amazing Race. Los Angeles doctors Nat Strand, 31, and Kat Chang, 35, spoke with PEOPLE about the highs and lows of their history-making run and why the experience means so much more than the money. (Not that being able to pay off medical school debt isn’t also putting a smile on their face.)

Does it feel good to finally be able to talk about making history?
Nat: It was harder in the beginning but after a month it got easy. I almost forgot it had happened in real life.
Kat: At first, you want to tell everyone. We’ve had to keep the secret for about six months. But it was fun for our friends and family to go along for the ride and get nervous.

Did the chance to be the first all-female team to win motivate you?
Nat: We always play hard. We didn’t go on to be the first female winners. We just wanted to race in a classy, graceful fashion and do our best. The fact that we’re the first female-female team to win is an extra honor.
Kat: We both love the show and we’d still have wanted to do it even if a female team had won before.

What is it about your team that allowed you to finish first?
Kat: We’ve worked together before in many situations where we have to try to get a specific task done often under stressful circumstances. That’s a very different dynamic than being related or dating.
Nat: We’re pretty equal partners. We have a similar level of physical fitness, similar backgrounds and we think the same way. It made it easy to work together. There was definitely not a feeling of one person carrying the other in any way. I know what helps Kat and what doesn’t and likewise. We also handle fatigue and stress daily as doctors.

It seemed important to you to race as a diabetic.
Nat: I wanted to represent a healthy active diabetic that wasn’t letting the disease set limitations in my life. I got emails throughout the show from mothers of newly diagnosed kids. One wrote me that her daughter had only been diabetic for four days and they watched the show together in the hospital. She said, “Look at her. She doesn’t look any different than other racers.” Those kinds of messages are important to get out there.

What was your favorite place or challenge?
Nat: When we were in Ghana in second-to-last place, trying to get that coffin to the warehouse, suddenly on that busy African highway all these kids gathered together to show us the way. We were running in a pack, laughing and smiling –
Kat: As we were carrying a giant lobster coffin. We are on the verge of being eliminated but it was so ridiculous and cool that we had to take a moment to laugh.

What was the hardest moment?
Kat: Eating the sheep’s head as a vegetarian. For Nat, it was heights challenges. The hardest leg was Oman in large part because we used the map that was misleading and we went the wrong direction for about six hours. Fortunately, Gary and Mallory had the same map and were seven hours behind.
Nat: If I ever have to drive a stick around the deserts of Oman again, it will be too soon.

That also speaks to how even a good team needs luck to win.
Nat: The Race is like life. Some people get good luck and some bad and in the end, it is usually a fair shake. A lot of it is how you get yourself out of a bad situation. You have to avoid huge mistakes and recovering from bad luck like a flat tire.
Kat: And sometimes you have to count on others having bad luck.

Do patients recognize you?
Kat: In the last couple of weeks, pretty much everyday one or two patients recognize me. It’s uncomfortable because we’re private people, but it has been made easier by how nice fans are.
Nat: I’ve had some people come to appointments with cameras and things for me to sign and bring their kids.