Blazing her own snow-covered trail

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer January 28, 2013 03:06 pm

Laura Daugereau of Leavenworth, Wash., won this past weekend’s 200-mile Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race, which was trimmed to 150 miles by inclement weather. KATY NESBITT/The Observer
Laura Daugereau of Leavenworth, Wash., won this past weekend’s 200-mile Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race, which was trimmed to 150 miles by inclement weather. KATY NESBITT/The Observer

By Katy Nesbitt / The Observer

In a sport with a growing inclusion of women, Laura Daugereau is a rising star as the first woman from Washington to enter and complete the Iditarod. 

Daugereau, who this weekend pulled out all the stops in winning Wallowa County’s the 200-mile Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race, said she first got interested in sled dogs in the unlikeliest place — the tropics of Guam — when at the age of 8 she read about four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher. Two years later her family moved to Leavenworth, Wash., where she taught her Labrador/Samoyed mix, Buster, to pull her up the sledding hill.

“I remembered the ‘dog sledding’ thing and bought him a harness from the pet store,” Daugereau said.

Next came a visit to the local library. Despite hating to read, she wanted to know more about sled dog racing. She read that first book cover to cover, then asked the librarian to order more books on her new favorite sport until they couldn’t access anymore.

“It awoke a passion which became a key part of my life,” Daugereau said.

She said her mother homeschooled her and despite her general disinterest in school work, her mom, “took my passion and wrapped it around dogs — math, health, science, it made me realize I loved learning,” Daugereau said.

She graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average and honors. Now she helps school kids identify their passions.

“When I do school visits, I talk to the kids about facing challenging things, like I did with my dyslexia. We all have mountains to climb, it’s how you face them,” Daugereau said. 

The day before the start of 200 miles of “mountain climbing” with a 12-dog team, she took one of her dogs to visit the Wallowa school.

“The kids I visited in Wallowa were very inquisitive, had great manners and lots of questions,” Daugereau said.

Once she’d devoured all the books she could, at 13, her father, Bill, took her to Alaska to a sled dog symposium. There she met her idol, Susan Butcher.

“I told her I’d never been on a dog sled, but she was very encouraging and put me on a two-mile loop. After that, I was solidly hooked,” she said.

She started her bloodline from a kennel in Fairbanks, Alaska, and instead of having a soccer mom, her mother, Carol, became a “musher mom.”

At 19 she went to Alaska for better training and worked for two Iditarod kennels as an apprentice. In 2008, she entered her first Iditarod and followed up with a second in 2009.

Now 30, her parents remain her greatest supporters and travel with her during race season. When not racing she works in the family construction business. During an interview the night before the race start, her father brought her a plate heaping with food.

“Dogs helped teach me to work for something and to face other challenges. I have a love/hate relationship with challenges, like a race,” Daugereau said. “I’d be better of if I was at the start right now.”

She admitted she gets edgy before races. 

“My parents are used to me and have to love me at the end of the day,” Daugereau said. “They are very supportive of why I do what I do.”

The winter takes her across the northern states of the United States, including Oregon, and Canada to race with her dogs. 

“The dogs have a good time, they have the best volunteers, and there’s a lot of community support and excitement,” Daugereau said.