Sad day for Alaska & the Iditarod

Four-time Iditarod champ Susan Butcher of Fairbanks lost her battle with leukemia treatment today about 2:30PM. Because of Susan, the slogan "Alaska, where men are men and women win the Iditarod" became popular. Butcher dominated the 1,100-mile sled dog race in the late 1980s.

In 1986, she became the second woman to win the grueling race from Anchorage to Nome. She added victories in 1987, 1988 and 1990 and finished in the top four through 1993.

"She has been known to walk in front of her team for 55 miles, with snow shoes, to lead them through snow storms, in non-racing situations, where she could have just as easily radioed for a plane to come and get her."

Susan Howlet Butcher was an animal lover, a business woman, a wife and a mother. She's also been called "the best competitive dog sled racer in the universe." There are many women who compete in sports, but not many who enter a race called the Iditarod, that takes her 1,152 miles across the Alaskan wilderness, enduring 100 m.p.h. winds, artic blizzards, snow blindness, wild animals, thin ice, sleep deprivation, avalanches, and whatever else mother nature feels like throwing at a person up in the land of the midnight sun -- and wins four times in a row.

Butcher has won this race, and others, so often that "Iditarod," as well as the sport of mushing, has become synonymous with her name.

In 1979, Butcher helped drive the first sled-dog team to the 20,320-foot summit of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

Butcher ran her last Iditarod in 1994 when she decided to have children. She has two daughters, Tekla and Chisana, with her husband, attorney and musher David Monson.

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.

Susan Butcher was 51. A sad and dark cloud hangs over Alaska today.