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Baby, she was born to sled

In the winter of 1994, when Port Gamble’s Iditarod competitor Laura Daugereau was 11 years old, she tied a makeshift dog harness to her little blue sled. Buster, her half-lab, half-samoyed, took off so fast the sled flipped backward.

Instead of crying or giving up, she laughed.

“That was the start of the end,” said her dad, Bill Daugereau.

Now, after 14 years of dreaming about the Iditarod, Laura, now 25, has completed it — finishing last Saturday the same way she began her dog-sledding career: with some bumps and bruises.

“She crossed the finish line and her face was puffy from wind burn, she was bruised and blistered out but she was grinning from ear to ear,” Bill Daugereau said.

The Iditarod race is known for its potentially perilous outcomes.

Mushers race their dog sleds across 1,150 miles of snow and packed ice terrain from Anchorage to Nome, Ala. Temperatures are often far below zero and the journey can take mushers between 10 and 17 days to complete, if they finish at all.

During one of the last legs of the race, Laura was dragged over a stump. Her whole right side was bruised black and blue. Not long after, her sled caught an edge and barrel-rolled. Her left leg was caught in the break system and it bruised up her left side.

“After all that, all she can say is ‘Dad, I’m having the time of my life,’ and I could hear she was smiling,” he said of a conversation they had at a check point.

This was Laura’s first Iditarod and her goal was to finish. Laura placed 64th in the race overall.

“She’s trained with those dogs for the past three years and she wasn’t racing to place, just finish,” said her mom Carol Daugereau. “It’s a rookie’s goal.”

Sixteen of the 94 teams that began the race dropped out.

In all the Iditarod races since the first one in 1973, less than 1,000 people have actually completed the race, Carol said.

“Anything and everything can happen out there,” Bill said. “Carol and I flew for three hours over the same stretch she ran. There’s nothing out there. It’s just solid, solid freezing cold snow and ice.”

When dogs are injured or cannot go on they are “dropped” from the race. When this happens, they are taken back to Anchorage to wait for their driver to complete the race and return.

Each sled driver starts with a team of 16 dogs and regulations require drivers cannot compete with less than seven dogs. Laura crossed the finish line after 13 days with 12 dogs still pulling strong.

When Laura was younger she read everything published on sled dogs and was able to train with famous Iditarod competitor Susan Butcher.

“Susan was the one who broke down the woman barriers in the Iditarod,” said musher of 20 years and Indianola resident Don Duncan, an engineer for Washington State Ferries. “Susan was not the first woman to win but she dominated for a number of years and is recognized for her dog care and competitiveness in what was a male dominated sport.”

Laura trained with Butcher in Alaska for four summers.

Butcher, who placed first four times in the Iditarod, passed away from cancer in 2006 in Seattle and is one of the women behind Laura’s favorite quote — “Alaska: Where men are men and women win the Iditarod.”

Laura visited Butcher before she passed away and thanked her for being her life’s inspiration.

Although the connection between the two women isn’t widely known, people are noticing similarities between the two.

“Laura is going to be the Susan Butcher of her generation,” Duncan said. “She has the compassion, knowledge and skills to exceed in this sport. She will rise to the surface to be recognized.”

Laura first met Duncan in 1998 at a symposium for dog sled racing in Alaska.

“Over the years I’ve gotten to be close to Laura,” Duncan said. “It was obvious back in ‘98 this was not an impulsive thing, not a trend, it was something her heart and soul were invested in. She has continued to pursue it with that passion.”

Duncan said he is at the top of Laura’s fan club but he’ll have to take that up with her happy and proud family.

“She’s done this all her life,” Bill said. “We’ve been proud of her for 25 years.”

At one point, Laura had 27 dogs when the Daugereau family lived on a 10-acre plot on Viking Way in Poulsbo. She converted an old chicken coop on their property to her bedroom to be close to the dogs.

Each year, from April through September Laura lives on her parent’s property in Port Gamble in a treehouse she built herself. She’s off training with her dogs the other six months.

While home she works construction with her dad’s Cornerstone Construction business.

“She works crazy long hours so she can take off to Montana and run her dogs,” Bill said.

Corrie Tienhaara, 30, who updated her sister’s Web site throughout the race, said her sister is adventurous but not impulsive.

“She rides motorcycles, lives in a treehouse, works constrution but it’s not at all because she just gets the idea and acts on it immediately,” Tienhaara said. “She sets goals and works at them and plans every detail. I’ve never met anyone like her. For the treehouse, she researched every aspect, like what type of trees grow at what rate.”

Bill said the next adventure Laura has lined up is the Yukon Quest, another extreme dog sledding race, which runs from Fairbanks to White Horse in Yukon.

“Some of the check points are 200 miles apart,” Bill said. “It’s just you, God and the dogs and 1,000 miles to travel in 12 to 13 days.”

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