Swingley unsure of future

Posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2004

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) The future of Doug Swingley's dog mushing career is unclear. Like his vision.

Swingley was forced to drop out of Alaska's 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race last week after he frostbit his eyes. He fears possible permanent damage.

''It's definitely a problem that I've got to work out,'' the four-time Iditarod champion from Lincoln told the Great Falls Tribune in a telephone interview from Wasilla, Alaska.

''I've got to figure out a way to continue,'' Swingley said.

He is still suffering from blurred vision in both eyes, especially his right eye, and doctors in Ancorage prescribed painkillers, eye drops and antibiotics.

Swingley said he was told he can't expect his vision to change for at least two weeks, the frostbite deep in his corneas.

When tissue is frostbitten once, it is generally forever more susceptible to cold, thus threatening the Great Falls native's career.

Swingley said he has occasionally had dry and irritated eyes the past two years since he had corrective laser eye surgery and ''no one will say'' whether he'll be able to continue dog racing.

Swingley, 50, froze his corneas March 8 as he and his team descended the treacherous Dalzell Gorge off the north slope of the Alaskan Range. His goggles kept fogging and he had to be able to see to negotiate the trail, he said, so he took the goggles off. With the cold and the wind and the movement of his sled and team, the temperature was the equivalent of 70-below zero, according to National Weather Service wind chill charts.

By the time Swingley reached the Rohn checkstation more than nine hours later, he needed help parking his team because he said he could not see. Still, he and the dog team continued on through Nikolai and McGrath and finally reached Tokotna on the Kuskokwim River.

There, he spent more than three hours agonizing over whether to continue the race that he said he knew he could win. ''Everybody knew that I had a much faster dog team than anybody else in the race,'' he said.

He said he consulted eye doctors in Anchorage and even a specialist in Vermont over the telephone and was convinced that to save his eyes and his dogs he had to quit the race.

Swingley said he plans to return to Montana after the race. Some of his dog teams were still in the race.

Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com

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