Susan Butcher, the first person to win four out of five Iditarods, is celebrated for her achievements on the first Saturday in March, known in Alaska as Susan Butcher Day. My sister, Megan, included the musher in her series of paintings titled "Women Warriors."
The name Susan Butcher is well-known to Alaskans. She raced in seventeen Iditarods, always placing in the top ten after her first, I'm tempted to say "practice," race. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an endurance testing 1,112-1,131 mile marathon through blizzard conditions across Jack London's Alaskan wilderness. There are many dangers, including one Susan Butcher faced in 1985 when she was forced to withdraw from the race after 13 of her dogs were injured and two of them were killed by a rogue moose, despite her best efforts to drive off the enraged animal.
In the race Butcher had to scratch, Libby Reynolds went on to finish in first place and became the first woman to win the Iditarod. We watched the finish during school on TV, via satellite--one of the first things we saw when TV finally reached us in the bush. Butcher won the next three races after that and a fourth after another year. When my sister and I were growing up, these two women spawned a famous saying throughout our state: "Alaska: where men are men and women win the Iditarod."
Susan Butcher held the Iditarod speed record from 1986 until 1992, breaking her own records in 1987, 1988, and 1990, and was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. She died much too soon at age 51 on August 5, 2006. Her beloved, favorite dog was named Granite and is pictured in Megan's portrait of her.
My latest column for Capital City Weekly, appearing Wednesday, March 1st, describes why Megan is exactly the right person to do a series of portraits on "Women Warriors." Check it out, along with more of Megan's art, at www.capitalcityweekly.com.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)