Susan Butcher: American sled-dog racer Susan Butcher won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race four times (1986-1988, 1990).
Dogsledding originated with the Inuit people of the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. These early peoples constructed sleds out of natural resources and used them for transportation. They made sleds of wood, runners of ivory, and harnesses of leather. Traders, explorers, and gold miners who entered the regions in the 1800s also used dogsleds to carry freight, mail, and people. The newcomers made improvements in sled design, most importantly by adding durable iron runners.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, adventurers used dogsleds to explore the Arctic and to reach the North Pole. Explorers also took sleds to the Antarctic and used them to reach the South Pole. Lore from the Alaskan and Yukon gold rush of the late 1800s states that wherever two dog teams traveled the same route, there was a race. The first major organized race was the All-Alaska Sweepstakes, run from 1908 to 1917. Held around Nome, the annual event covered about 650 km (about 400 mi) of wilderness trails.
Perhaps the most famous dogsledding event occurred during the winter of 1925, when an epidemic of the highly contagious disease diphtheria broke out in the isolated community of Nome, Alaska. Over a course of several days, mushers relayed a diphtheria serum about 1125 km (about 700 mi) from the town of Nenana, saving many of Nome’s residents. This trek became the inspiration for the Iditarod, the premier dogsledding event.
After World War II (1939-1945) the popularization of airplanes and snowmobiles had a severe impact on the use of dogsledding for practical purposes. After the first running of the Iditarod in 1973, however, the activity gained international exposure as a sport. Recent decades have seen the founding of the IFSS and increased international competition, including the first world championships in 1990 and the establishment of the World Cup circuit in 1996.
Every country has its own racing heroes, top breeders, great tacticians, and innovators. Some are known worldwide, including Norwegian Leonhard Seppala, a famous musher in Alaska during the early 1900s. More recent names include American sprint racer George Attla and several Iditarod champions: American Rick Swenson, Swiss-born Martin Buser, and American Susan Butcher. Butcher is particularly known for opening the sport to women. In Europe, French musher Jacques Philip and Swedish mushers Roger Leegaard and Jan Swenson are famous.