Sarah Louise Heath was born Feb. 11, 1964, in Sandpoint, Idaho, to Charles and Sally Heath, a science teacher and a school secretary. The Heaths moved to Alaska three months later and raised their children in Wasilla. Sarah attended Wasilla High School, earning the nickname "Sarah Barracuda" for her prowess at basketball. (That nickname would come back into play in 2008, when the McCain-Palin campaign played rock band Heart's 1970s hit "Barracuda" on campaign stops, despite some members of Heart issuing a cease and desist order [source: Telegraph].)
Sarah graduated from high school in 1982 and registered that year as a Republican [source: Biography]. In high school, she also met Todd Palin, the man who would be her husband.
She left Alaska for warmer climes after graduating high school, attending Hawaii Pacific University for a year before transferring to North Idaho College. She attended classes there for a year, then transferred to the University of Idaho to study broadcast news at the journalism school. She studied at that university for another year before heading back to Alaska and taking classes at Matanuska-Sustina College, near her hometown of Wasilla. After taking classes for a semester, she returned to the University of Idaho, where she graduated in 1987 with a degree in journalism [source: AP].
In 1984, during a break from college, Palin was named Miss Wasilla. The title qualified her for the Alaska state beauty pageant, where she was runner-up and voted Miss Congeniality [source: Reuters]. While Palin went to college, Todd remained in Alaska, building a salmon fishing company. After Palin returned, the couple eloped and were married on Aug. 29, 1988. Todd and Palin opted out of the expense of a wedding, Todd said later, "because it was a bad year for fish and they did not have the money" [source: IHT].
Todd has served as Alaska's "First Dude" since Palin was elected governor in 2006. He is a four-time winner of the 2,000 mile (3,200 km) Iron Dog snowmobile race [source: IHT]. Todd Palin maintains his salmon fishing business in the summers and works part time as a production operator for a BP oil field. Sarah worked briefly as a television sports reporter, and the couple owned an ATV dealership for several years [source: CNN].
In 1989, the Palins began their family with the birth of their first son, Track. Track (who was deployed to Iraq in the Army in September 2008) was followed by Palin daughters Bristol (17), Willow (14), Piper (7) and son Trig (8 months). Her last child, Trig was born with Down syndrome. Following the diagnosis, Palin sent an e-mail to relatives written from the perspective of God. "Children are the most precious and promising ingredient in this mixed up world you live in down there on Earth. Trig is no different, except he has one extra chromosome," she wrote [source: Anchorage Daily News]. The Palin children's unusual names are all drawn from the Palins' personal interests. Track was named after Sarah Palin's affinity for running. Bristol, Willow and Trig all bear names after locales around Alaska. Piper is named for the family's small airplane [source: NY Daily News].
Sarah Palin is involved in her children's lives. She once told an Alaskan newspaper that she wouldn't run for the U.S. Senate because it would interfere with her role as a "team mom" [source: Editor and Publisher]. Motherhood found Palin "coaching some basketball on the side," ultimately emerging as a "hockey mom" [source: Palin]. She was also interested in her children's education, serving as a member of the local Parent Teacher Association. This would mark the beginning of her career in elected office.