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If you like Susan Butcher's story, you might also like:
Sylvia Earle,
Jane Goodall,
Dorothy Hamill,
Edmund Hillary
and Craig McCaw

Susan Butcher also appears in the videos:
You Can Do Anything,
Risk-Taking: An Ingredient for Success

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Susan Butcher
Susan Butcher
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Susan Butcher Interview (page: 2 / 8)

Champion Dog-Sled Racer

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  Susan Butcher

How do you account for this independence of spirit, this determination to live your own life, on your terms, at a time when that was fairly unusual for someone in your position?

I really feel I had a strong sense of myself from the earliest memories that I have. I knew very much who I was, approximately what I wanted to do. I didn't know I wanted to be a dog musher. And I feel there are many things in life I could have done and had as much satisfaction as I am having. But I knew the type of things that I wanted to do, and I also knew that I wasn't going to let anybody come in the way of that. When I got my second dog, and I was living in my mother's house in Cambridge, and she said, "You will not get a second dog. I won't let you have two dogs in the house." Instead of saying, "Okay, I won't get a second dog," I got my second dog and moved out. So it was always a matter of... (being myself) and happily, and with a good relationship with my mother. This was not a negative thing towards my mother. This was not something that she even took as... I was very lucky to have parents that supported my ability to be responsible. I wasn't into drugs. I wasn't a bad child in those ways. It was obvious that I was a workaholic and someone who wanted to live a fairly clean life, and not get into that type of trouble. So they could trust that if I wanted to do something, there was a good reason for it.

My parents were not thrilled that I didn't go on to college and that I went up to Alaska to mush dogs. I think (they were) like many parents, that think, "This is a stage she is going through," so they weren't unsupportive. "This is a neat thing to do, Susan, and when are you coming back?" And so, finally they saw though, how happy I was up there, how dedicated I was to what I was doing, and that they probably weren't going to see me back down here living. And they often asked me how did I think I was going to support myself, because I was just getting more and more broke. I was just going in the hole. I was having a lot of financial troubles. But, I never asked for any help financially, and always managed to squeak by, and finally found a way to make a living, becoming really one of the first professional dog mushers ever. I mean, that was not something that was going on at the time that I entered the sport. And so it was a matter of believing in what I did. And going for it.

Susan Butcher Interview Photo
Ever have any self-doubts? About either yourself or what you were doing?

I think we all experience self-doubt. I am not going to tell you that I don't have insecurities or low self-esteem sometimes. But "self-doubt" -- what that word means to me -- I really don't remember experiencing. I didn't have fears of what I was going forward to. I felt I knew what it was that I wanted, and I felt that what I wanted was worthy.

Was there a moment when you knew that you wanted to do?

There was not one single moment that told me I wanted to become a professional dog musher. It was more a thing that, throughout my life, I knew I would be working with animals. I knew I would be especially working with dogs, and I knew I would be living in the wilderness. I just chose a Siberian Husky as a pet dog. I went to pick it up from the people, and they said, "Oh, you know, the mother was an Alaskan sled dog, and she was actually a leader. Wouldn't it be fun if you taught your puppy how to pull a sled?" From there, I went on to being enthralled with it, and the first time I read about the Iditarod, which was the first year it happened, I just said "I'm going to go up there and run that race." Again, even at that point, I certainly didn't know that I would be doing it fourteen years later.

Why dog sled racing?

Well, of course, it was the typical thing. Everyone thought that because of my love of animals and my love of the country, that I would become a country doctor, a veterinary doctor. And so,

I went to Colorado State University, took courses, became a veterinarian technician, and took courses above and beyond technician work in the veterinary field. But I was not a student, mostly because of my dyslexia, but also because of my love of doing physical things and of being outdoors. And there really was not enough of that. I would have been happy to have gone straight into veterinary school. But they wanted you to take English I, and History I, and everything else, and I was too impatient for that. Having worked for a vet for three years, I adored it. I love veterinary medicine. It's very interesting to me. But I could see it wasn't what I wanted to spend my whole life doing -- being inside of a building doing veterinary work. I wanted to be outside. I would say that when I moved to Alaska and started dog mushing, it wasn't so much that it brought me sublime happiness -- but total contentment. And I never missed anything else. I lived alone for nine years following my dream. There were some very lonely times; there were some very difficult times. I was often living alone, with my closest neighbor forty miles away. It was tough times for me. But I was never discontented.

I was very, I have to say, happy. I remember trying to explain this to my family, that I had obviously found something very right for me.

From the first moment that I landed in Alaska, I felt at home for the first time in my life. So there really is something -- and I don't want to become mystical about this, but it's something that I don't completely understand -- which is that there was this person born in me that absolutely should have been born in Alaska, or should have been born fifty years before or one hundred years before, where I could have been a pioneer. That's all there is to it. I was born with the pioneering spirit.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

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This page last revised on Feb 28, 2011 18:30 EST
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