DULUTH — A weekend snowmobile hit-and-run in northwestern Wisconsin left a sled dog — that finished the 860-mile Iditarod last March — with a severely broken leg.
John Beargrease and Iditarod sled dog race veteran Ryan Redington was running 15 dogs Saturday night on the Tri-County Corridor, a well-groomed multi-use trail that connects Superior to Ashland. The team was in Bayfield County's Iron River, finishing the last 3 miles of a 40-mile run.
"A snowmobile came on at a high rate of speed, veered into my team and collided with my dogs, barely missing me," said Redington, who tipped his sled off the trail in an attempt to avoid the collision.
Three-year-old Wildfire, who was in the wheel position directly in front of the sled, flew into the air. The snowmobile driver continued on, Redington said.
Redington's training partner Sarah Keefer was behind him with her dogs and saw the driver barrel down the center of the wide trail narrowly missing her, she said, veering off at the last second. She caught up to Redington and they called for help. Another of his dogs, Willy, was also injured with lacerations and a badly bruised leg bone.
Wildfire's left rear leg broke in three places. Two surgeries were performed late in the afternoon Tuesday at Mission Animal Hospital in Eden Prairie.
"It's not good," Redington said.
Through surgery, he hoped to allow Wildfire to at least walk again. Racing isn't out of the question, depending on surgery outcomes and eventual rehabilitation, he said.
Wildfire was one of six dogs that finished the 2021 Iditarod with Redington, who placed seventh. Racing rules allow you to drop dogs but not replace them, and Redington started with 14.
"He's one of the stars of our team," said Redington, who splits time between Brule, Wis., and Alaska. "These guys are my family. I spend every day with them. I hate to see them go through this."
An incident report filed with the Bayfield County Sheriff's Office said a snowmobile hit Redington's team around 6:45 p.m. and did not stop. Chief Deputy Andy Runice said Tuesday that an investigation was still active.
The trail is wide with good visibility and Keefer and Redington travel it often with their teams, never before encountering problems with snowmobilers, they said. They're riders themselves. Both wore LED headlamps, and the lead dogs are equipped with blinking harnesses or collars, while the rest have reflective harnesses.
"You can see the lights coming down the trail," Keefer said, and both teams were on the right side of it.
Redington, who came in second place in last year's Beargrease Marathon and won in 2020, still plans to run this year's. It begins Jan. 30 in Duluth.
"We won't be as fast for Beargrease," he said, but the dogs are trained and eager to race. "We will continue on and do what we love."
A fundraiser to help pay for medical expenses and related costs for the injured dogs had raised more than $34,000 by Tuesday.