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Injury fells Iditarod contender Seavey

Craig Medred

A slip of the knife in Ophir ended the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race for former champ Mitch Seavey early Thursday moning. Seavey was reported to have been cutting open a bale of straw for his dogs when the knife sliced into his hand.

The knife appears to have nearly severed his right index finger.

"He's going to be in surgery this afternoon," his wife, Janine said. "We're trying to save his finger."

Janine was reached by cell phone at midday Thursday on the road to Anchorage to pick Mitch up and get him to the hospital. He was being loaded in an airplane in McGrath for a flight back to the city. The Seaveys, who live in Sterling, had already consulted with mushing doctors in Alaska who referred them to the state's best specialist in hand repair.

"Hopefully, we'll save the finger out of this deal," Janine said.

The damage done to Mitch's right hand left him so debillitated race marshall Mark Nordman ordered Seavey withdrawn from the race. The move appears unprecedented. This list of injuries with which mushers have continued up the trail in the past is long.

Seavey's father, Dan, an Iditarod veteran, said he was still trying to get the details on what happened, but doubted his son wanted to quit.

"I'm guessing he wanted to wrap an old sock around it and keep going," said Dan, who called the withdrawal "devastating" for the family.

"I would have bet the farm (Mitch) would have won this year," Dan said.

Mitch, who had the fourth team into Ophir behind defacto race leader Martin Buser from Big Lake, was just coming off a 24-hour rest stop in Takotna, and his team looked strong. 

From the sounds of what happened, Dan said, it's probably a good thing Mitch was ordered out of the race. Janine appeared in full agreement with that view. Mitch's withdrawal is a blow to the family's Iditarod aspirations, she said, Mitch needs to let the doctors do their work.

The Seavey family still has a team in the competition. Dallas, Mitch's son and the winner of this year's Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada to Fairbanks, was running with the chase pack just behind Buser Thursday.

A 10th place finisher in the Iditarod last year and a top-10 finisher ever since winning the Iditarod in 2004, Mitch is the second top-rated challenger to drop out of the Iditarod 2011. Kenai Peninsula neighbor Paul Gebhardt, a past Iditarod runner up, went out when the early pace proved simply to fast for his dogs.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com. Jill Burke contributed to this story.