New Englander Susan Butcher had an unusual upbringing in the fifties, her parents Charles and Agnes Butcher felt girls should be treated the same as boys. With this atmosphere, their two daughters were exposed to carpentry, mechanics, shipbuilding, and anything else they cared to learn. Susan really enjoyed boat-building and restoration, and she applied to a special training school at sixteen but was turned down for being female. She also loved any activity where she could be outdoors. Every chance she got, she was outside with her beloved dog, Cabee. Her love of animals was such that her family thought she might aspire to veterinary science because she was “more comfortable with animals than she was with people.” But Susan threw everyone a curve when she chose her life’s work.
Moving to mountainous Boulder, Colorado, seventeen-year-old Susan opted against college to take up “mushing”—dogsled racing. Later, she moved to Fairbanks to attend the University of Alaska in order to participate in a special project helping forestall the extinction of muskoxen. Susan was definitely in the perfect setting to practice mushing; she got three dogs, moved to a remote Wrangell Mountain log cabin outside Fairbanks, and lived pioneer style, hunting for food and sledding her way around the snowy countryside. In 1977, her work with the endangered musk oxen took her to Unalakleet, the home of the “Last Great Race on Earth.” Here, she met Joe Reddington, Sr., the founder of this race, more commonly known as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Reddington immediately became a fan of Susan’s who saw her talent with dogs and how hard she worked at mushing. He declared that one day Susan Butcher would be an Iditarod champion. His prescience was soon proven.
In the 1978 race, Butcher placed nineteenth as a first-timer. She then met a young lawyer and sled racer named David Monson. Although the relationship started out in a dispute over Susan’s rather large, past-due debt for dog food to the company Monson represented, they fell in love, got married, and settled in Eureka, a hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle. They founded the Trail Breaker Kennels, and built 120 houses for racing dogs and four one-room cabins for human visitors and fellow racers. Friends say that she has a uniquely close bond with her dogs, treating them as she does people and finding the unique qualities that make each dog different. Susan just says the dogs are her “best friends.”
She has continued to race every year since getting married, winning many times. Despite blizzards and eighty mile-per-hour winds, moose attacks, and a bad sled wreck, Susan has set records for speed in the Iditarod and made headlines around the world as the woman who could outrace any man in the most extreme climate on earth.