- Category : 1954-births
- Type : PSP
- Profile : 1/4 - Investigating / Opportunist
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Service 4
American dog sled racer, a four-time winner of the Iditarod Alaskan Dog Race, a grueling competitive event.
Butcher grew up in Cambridge, MA in an upper middle class neighborhood, not far from Harvard. At age 8 she wrote an essay entitled “I Hate the City.” Her father, Charlie, ran a chemical products company, and her mother Agnes was a psychiatric therapist; they divorced when Susan was 11. Dyslexia caused her some problems in her early school years. She learned best by doing rather than from books and was fidgety in school. A withdrawn child, she related best to her dog and was happiest facing athletic challenges, working with her dad on carpentry projects or being outdoors with her dog.
At age 16, she went to Nova Scotia and learned to farm and train horses. Two years later, on a visit to her dad’s in Boulder, CO, she connected with a woman who had 50 huskies. "Ten minutes later I had moved in,” Butcher said. I lived with her a couple years working as a veterinary tech and learning to mush." Realizing that becoming a veterinarian was not a good fit for her, and crazy about dogs, she moved to Alaska in 1975. At age 20, with only $600 in her pocket, Butcher moved into a cabin without electricity or running water. Living 40 miles from her closest neighbor, she worked a summer job on the coast at a fish processing plant, seven days a week, 18 hours a day, in order to earn some money. With few available food supplies, she and her companion lived off moose, caribou and ptarmigan and whatever else they could hunt. They hauled their own water. In 1977, she moved to Eureka, Alaska to start her 100-dog Trail Breaker Kennel on five acres of bush surrounding an 80-year-old log cabin that once belonged to a Gold Rush blacksmith. With a population of six people, Eureka was just a scatter of mining shacks among strands of silver birch at the end of 140 miles of dirt road, not far beneath the Arctic Circle. She lived alone or with handlers when she could afford them. There was no such thing as TV, flush toilets, or a bathtub. Susan considered a phone an offensive intrusion and refused to answer it. A single telephone was hooked by satellite to a Seattle area code for emergency only. A run for groceries entailed a four-hour rattle by truck to Fairbanks. Butcher loved the solitude, the privacy, and her uninterrupted focus on breeding, training, and bonding with her dogs. From the time a pup was born, she would lift the blind baby and breathe into its nostrils. From that moment she was friend and tutor, comfort and family to the dog. In 1979, with Iditarod founder Joe Reddington, she took a dog team to the 20,320-foot summit of Mt. McKinley. It took 44 days and brought public attention to the earnest young woman with braided hair.
Called the last great race on earth, the Iditarod course runs over 1,100 miles from its starting point in Anchorage. It sweeps across cultural zones, two major mountain ranges, icy valleys and forests, on the frozen Yukon River, along the Bering Sea shore and finishes on Nome's storied Front Street, in front of several rip-roaring saloons. The mushers race through ice and wind storms, through frost-biting cold and stark landscapes, enduring hunger and fatigue, with only their dogs and the wonders of the natural world for company. Because they sleep only a few hours a night, they can hallucinate, with potential for losing their way for days. Even a momentary lapse can mean a life-threatening accident. Veterans say it is amazing that no musher has died in the Iditarod.
For her rookie outing in 1978, Butcher came in 19th out of 39. She finished second in 1982 and 1984. In 1985, two of her dogs were kicked to death and 15 injured by a pregnant moose. She was unable to complete that year’s race, and Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Alaska Dog Race. Butcher won the event in 1986, 1987, and 1988. She came in second in the 1989 event, but won the $50,000 first prize again in March 1990. In 12 of her 17 attempts at the Iditarod, she finished in the top five and finished in the top 10 in 15 of them. She is said to have revolutionized the sport by the way she related to her dogs, caring for them with tenderness, training them thoroughly, and inspiring them to excel.
In 1985 Butcher married Dave Monson, a good-natured lawyer and part-time musher, and they had two daughters. She named her oldest girl, born in 1995, Margarethe Tekla after one of her favorite dogs. Her second daughter named Chisana was born in early July 2000. To provide more time to care for her family, Butcher gave up long-distance racing. She and her husband continued to raise and kennel dogs, and she endorsed products and gave motivational talks at corporate seminars.
Butcher suffered with a rare blood disorder labeled polycythemia vera. One report said that she had suffered from the disease for at least three years prior to her diagnosis on December 2, 2005 of acute myelogenous leukemia. On May 16, 2006, she underwent a bone marrow transplant but her body did not accept the cells, and, on June 28 she was hospitalized with graft-versus-host disease. A month later, on July 25, the leukemia recurred and Butcher succumbed to its ravages. She died at 3:25 PM on August 5, 2006 in a Seattle hospital, age 51.