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Four-time Iditarod Champion Susan Butcher 1955--2006
Mark Bechtel
August 14, 2006
Susan Butcher�was once asked how she could keep the names of all 150 of her sled dogs straight. "It's easy when you know them," she said. "Like having 150 kids." Butcher--who died last week of leukemia at age 51--treated her huskies as such, lavishing them with love and attention while instilling discipline and character. It paid dividends: Her dogs pulled her to four Iditarod victories between 1986 and 1990. (Only one musher, Rick Swenson, has won the 1,150-mile Anchorage-to-Nome race more times--five.) Butcher was as fiercely protective as any mother. In the 1985 race a starving pregnant moose attacked her team; Butcher fought off the animal for 20 minutes with just a pickax until another driver arrived and shot the moose.
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August 14, 2006

Four-time Iditarod Champion Susan Butcher 1955--2006

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Susan Butcher�was once asked how she could keep the names of all 150 of her sled dogs straight. "It's easy when you know them," she said. "Like having 150 kids." Butcher--who died last week of leukemia at age 51--treated her huskies as such, lavishing them with love and attention while instilling discipline and character. It paid dividends: Her dogs pulled her to four Iditarod victories between 1986 and 1990. (Only one musher, Rick Swenson, has won the 1,150-mile Anchorage-to-Nome race more times--five.) Butcher was as fiercely protective as any mother. In the 1985 race a starving pregnant moose attacked her team; Butcher fought off the animal for 20 minutes with just a pickax until another driver arrived and shot the moose.

Butcher grew up in Cambridge, Mass., but it quickly became apparent that her future lay in more rustic surroundings. When she was eight, she wrote an essay for school titled I Hate the City, and she lobbied her parents to tear down their home and build a log cabin. She moved out of her house at 16 when her mother told her she couldn't get a second dog. "Susan is more comfortable with animals than she is with most people," her father, Charlie, told SI in 1991. "Animals are more emotionally honest. She loves that quality in them."

Butcher gave thought to becoming a veterinarian, but after reading a magazine story about the first Iditarod, in 1973, she decided to move to Alaska. There she lived in near isolation, focusing solely on her dogs. "When I'm mushing or caring for the dogs or picking up after them, I am in total contentment," she said. "I have found something that was made for me."

She entered her first Iditarod in 1978; she got a sponsor after two television stations ran footage of her bathing in a frozen lake. She entered her last in 1994; after finishing 10th, she retired to settle down and raise a family. Butcher lived with her dogs and her husband, Dave Monson, a musher and former lawyer, at an abandoned gold-mining camp in Eureka, a town of around a dozen people about 130 miles outside of Fairbanks. She and Monson had two daughters, Chisana, 5, and 11-year-old Tekla--a name she shares with one of her mom's most beloved sled dogs.

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