Four-time Iditarod champion dies

  • Updated: August 6, 2006 - 6:22 AM

Four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher, who in 1986 became the race's second female winner and brought increased national attention to its grueling competition, has died. She was 51.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher, who in 1986 became the race's second female winner and brought increased national attention to its grueling competition, has died. She was 51.

Butcher died Saturday in a Seattle hospital of a reoccurrence of leukemia after a recent stem-cell transplant, her doctor said.

She dominated the 1,100-mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome in the late 1980s. Her other victories came in 1987, '88 and '90, and she finished in the top four through 1993.

"What she did is brought this race to an audience that had never been aware of it before simply because of her personality,'' Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George said.

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.

Dr. Jan Abkowitz said that after a stem-cell transplant May 16, Butcher developed graft-versus-host-disease, in which transplanted cells attacked her digestive system.

"Then to our dismay and surprise, about a week ago, when we did a routine bone marrow test, we found that her leukemia had come back,'' Abkowitz said.

Butcher received chemotherapy for the leukemia and was moved to intensive care Friday at the University of Washington Medical Center.

"At the time she had the transplant, her leukemia was in remission. She was feeling absolutely fine,'' Abkowitz said.

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