susan butcher

Susan Butcher, four-time Iditarod champion, died yesterday. Butcher was 51 years old; she had leukemia.
Butcher dominated the 1,100-mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome in the late 1980s, bringing increased national attention to the grueling competition. She won the 1986 race to become the second female champion, added victories in 1987, '88 and '90 and finished in the top four through 1993.

"What she did is brought this race to an audience that had never been aware of it before simply because of her personality," Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George said.

She also made headlines in 1979 when she helped drive the first sled-dog team to the 20,320-foot summit of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

Clare Hagerty, spokeswoman for the University of Washington Medical Center, said Butcher's family would not comment to the media Saturday night.

According to Butcher's Web site, a bone marrow transplant performed May 16 cleared her system of cancer. But she also developed graft-versus-host-disease, in which transplanted cells start attacking her digestive system. She was moved to intensive care Friday because of a fever and a change in the potassium level in her blood.

"I am sitting with her now and she is sleeping comfortably," husband David Monson wrote on his blog Friday on SusanButcher.com. "We expect that if she continues to be stable she can move back into her old room soon. I have learned over the last eight months though to never make predictions. Just focus on what is in front of you right now. It is the most important."

Butcher, who grew up in Cambridge, Mass., ran her last Iditarod in 1994 when she and Monson decided to have children. They have two daughters, Tekla and Chisana.

Three years ago, when she was considering a comeback, doctors found Butcher had polycythemia vera, a rare disease that causes the bone marrow to produce excess blood.

Butcher planned to compete in a 300-mile race last winter, but was unable to compete after she was diagnosed with leukemia in early December.

"Now my goal is to try and stay alive and fight leukemia," she told The Associated Press. "No questions asked, that's what I am going to do."

During her chemo treatments, Butcher daydreamed about land in the White Mountains she and her husband bought last fall. They planned to build a bigger cabin on the land that comes with 300 miles of groomed trails -- perfect for mushing dogs -- right out the back door.

"I got the cutest, lovingest group of well-trained females. They are easy to handle and I just enjoy them," she said. "They will be waiting for me."
I always admired and cheered for Butcher. I love dogs, love mushing, and love women's sports - so she was a natural for me.

Butcher was very young. I'm very sorry for her family and loved ones.

* * * *

Allan and I fell in love with dog-sled racing - and with sled dogs! - when we were in Alaska in 1996. We hung out with Joe Redington, Sr., called "the father of the Iditarod," and his three dozen dogs at his kennels.

Some years ago, we were planning on going mushing with a tiny outfit in northern Minnesota. It would have been in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, winter camping, a completely novel experience for us. Then we decided to apply to emigrate to Canada. The trip would have been very expensive, and we realized we had to give up the idea, and put the money towards the Canada Fund. (That's the "dream vacation" I refer to in my moving-to-Canada essay.)

I don't know if we'll ever get to do it now. As we get older, the odds diminish. At the very least, we have to visit Dogsled Stacie in the Yukon.

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