Susan Butcher grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, began dog mushing in Colorado, and became a legend in Alaska with four victories in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race between 1986 and 1990. Tutored by race founder and good friend Joe Redington Sr., who announced to the world Butcher would become a champion, the hard-nosed competitor was renowned for her single-minded focus and checkpoint acumen.
Her run of victories between 1986 and 1988 marked the first time a musher won three consecutive Iditarods. Twice Butcher set speed records in the 1,100-mile race between Anchorage and Nome. She made her Iditarod debut in 1978 in 19th place. She placed second four times, third once, fourth once and fifth twice before retiring after the 1994 race.
In 1979, Butcher and Redington, accompanied by a photographer and aided by mountain guide Ray Genet, performed the seemingly impossible feat of driving dog teams to the summit of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America.
In three of Butcher’s Iditarod triumphs, the key lead dog was Granite, perhaps the most famous canine leader in race history. One of her other special huskies was Tekla, whom she credited with once saving her life and for whom she named her first child.
Butcher’s record-setting exploits earned her a national reputation. She was twice named the Women’s Sports Foundation Professional Athlete of the Year. In some quarters of the Lower 48, for a time the Iditarod was known as “The race that woman wins.”
– Lew Freedman