Susan Butcher: She carved up the competition

February 26, 2010 

No other Iditarod musher has ever had five years like Susan Butcher's stretch between 1986 and 1990. In those years Butcher finished first, first, first, second -- by less than one hour -- and first again. That five-year period was the highlight of an Iditarod racing career that was nearly all highlights. In 12 of the 17 years Butcher ran the race, she finished among the top five mushers. It is a record that made Butcher's selection to the Daily News Iditarod Hall of Fame automatic.

"She worked harder, trained smarter, bred her dogs brilliantly and in many ways re-invented the modern Iditarod team," nominating committee member John Larson wrote in 1997. "A real champion and a true dog person."

Her success on the trail was only one of the reasons for Butcher's selection. She loved dog racing, and it showed.

"I love everything about it," she said in a 1989 Alaska magazine article. "I love the companionship of the dogs and the lifestyle it affords me. And then I'm also very competitive, so I enjoy getting out and racing and seeing who's the best and who's doing the best breeding and training, caring for their teams."

That attitude made Butcher a superior spokeswoman for the sport, and she worked at promoting the race. Butcher was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2005.

"She has been a tireless supporter of the Iditarod in Alaska and the Lower 48," nominating committee member Tom Busch said.

Just as important, she proved conclusively that women could compete with, and defeat, men in the Iditarod. She was the first woman to finish in the Top 20, the Top 10 and the Top Five. If a moose hadn't killed two of her dogs and injured 13 in 1985, many think she would have been the first woman to win the race too.

"Susan needs to be on the list simply because she dominated the race for years," wrote fellow Hall of Famer Don Bowers. "She is almost solely responsible for the old saying 'Alaska, where men are men and women win the Iditarod.' "

Inducted 1997 Greatest accomplishment Four-time winner of the Iditarod; finished in top 10 in 15 of 17 races. Vital stats Born: Cambridge, Mass. Hometown: Manley Died: 2006, age 51 Best finish 1st -- 1986, '87, '88, '90 Fastest time 1993 -- 10 days, 22 hours, 3 minutes Race record 1978 19th 1979 9th 1980 5th 1981 5th 1982 2nd 1983 9th 1984 2nd 1985 Scratched 1986 1st 1987 1st 1988 1st 1989 2nd 1990 1st 1991 3rd 1992 2nd 1993 4th 1994 10th Awards Golden Harness (to outstanding lead dog) -- 1988 Halfway -- 1989, '91 First to Yukon -- 1990 Safety to Nome -- 1990 First to McGrath -- 1990

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