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If you like Susan Butcher's story, you might also like:
Sylvia Earle,
Jane Goodall,
Dorothy Hamill,
Edmund Hillary
and Craig McCaw

Susan Butcher also appears in the videos:
You Can Do Anything,
Risk-Taking: An Ingredient for Success

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Susan Butcher
Susan Butcher
Profile of Susan Butcher Biography of Susan Butcher Interview with Susan Butcher Susan Butcher Photo Gallery

Susan Butcher Biography

Champion Dog-Sled Racer

Susan Butcher Date of birth: December 26, 1954
Date of death: August 5, 2006

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  Susan Butcher

Susan Butcher Biography Photo
Susan Howlet Butcher was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her love of the wilderness and animals drew her to Alaska when she was 20 years old. Starting out with only two dogs, doing odd jobs during the summer months in order to live through the long winters, she eventually rose to become the most famous dog musher in the world.

A disciplined and fearless adventurer, she was the first person to win three consecutive Iditarod championships, from 1986 to 1988. The Iditarod is a 1,152- mile race across the spectacular but brutal Alaskan wilderness. Competitors endure 100 m.p.h. skin-ripping winds, blinding snow, and temperatures reaching 70 degrees below zero. Butcher, who raced in her first Iditarod in 1978, finished in the top five from 1980 to 1984. In 1985, she was leading in the early stages of the race when a sick and dying moose blundered into her path on the trail. A few frantic minutes later, two of Butcher's dogs were dead, others were injured and she was out of the race.

The following year, she returned to win the race, triumphing again in 1987 and 1988. In 1989, she finished second, but returned to win once again in 1990 -- four first-place finishes in only five years, an Iditarod record. In all, she would finish in the top five in twelve Iditarods. No musher has ever so dominated the sport.

Susan Butcher Biography Photo
"You have to be very selfless in your dedication to your dogs. When you come into a checkpoint, although there may be a wood stove to warm your feet by, you stay outside; you take care of your dogs, get them bedded down and fed. It may take three hours. Then you can go and have your 15 minutes inside, and then it's time to go and check your dogs, massage them down and get ready to go again. I might get a catnap," Butcher told The Los Angeles Times.

At the peak of her racing career, Susan Butcher stood an athletic five feet six inches and weighed 135 pounds. Her success was the result of long training. "At a pace of eight or nine miles per hour" she said, "You do some riding that can be fairly relaxing, but the majority of it you're either pumping with one leg or running. The most strenuous is going over the rough terrain and having to steer the sled, which weighs 150 to 200 pounds with all the gear in it. Throwing the sled around is as exhausting as pumping or running."

Susan Butcher Biography Photo
Two of her favorite lead dogs were Granite and Tolstoy, each of whom led her to victory. Like all Alaskan Huskies, Butcher said, "They live to race. They like the competition. They understand the competition. They want to pass the teams ahead of them. You need only one to three dogs to pull you and the sled and the gear, so it's way overkill, and you have this immense amount of power. You've got nothing but a voice command. There are no reins or anything. It's all 'gee' for right, 'haw' for left, 'whoa' for stop."

Butcher lived with her husband, fellow dogsled racer David Monson, in the remote area of Eureka, where they raised two daughters and a pack of wonderful sled dogs. For many years after her retirement from competition, Susan Butcher owned and operated Trailbreaker Kennels in Eureka. In 2006, she died of leukemia at the age of 51. In the years following her death, the State of Alaska honored her in a number of ways. In 2008, the state legislature established Susan Butcher Day, to be observed on the first Saturday of March each year. Later that year, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks announced the creation of the Susan Butcher Institute, to develop public service and leadership skills among young Alaskans.

This page last revised on Sep 02, 2008 12:31 EDT
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