Dean Osmar knew what he was getting into when he decided to run in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race this racing season. Having won the The Last Great Race in 1984, he knew it was long and hard. This year's race was harder than ever though, but not due to challenging trail or weather conditions. It was due to unexpected illness.
The 56-year-old, Clam Gulch musher has been called one of the toughest guys on the trail by his fellow competitors, but after being hammered with an intestinal bug for hundreds of miles, he made the decision to scratch.
"It was the hardest decision I've ever made," said Osmar. "In 23 years of racing I've never had to scratch from a race."
About 100 miles into the race, he came down with a high fever, chills and stomach cramps, but the stoic Osmar wasn't going to let that stand in his way.
He pushed on from Tanana to Ruby and the conditions worsened. He began vomiting and developed dysentery, which quickly made dehydration a concern. He had no appetite and went three days without eating.
These health conditions would be dangerous to anyone, but compounded by the grueling demands of racing though the elements and terrain of Alaska's back country, the situation could easily have become life or death for him.
He took his mandatory 24-hour rest in Ruby to try and reinvent a healthy body. Doctors believed he was suffering from food poisoning.
He pushed on from Ruby to Galena, choking down Pepto-Bismol the whole way. With still no improvement to his health, it was there -- 400 miles into the race -- that he decided to park the dogs.
"I realized that my weakened physical condition and continuing illness was compromising my ability to stay warm and alert. Pushing on would have been risking my ability to care for my dogs," he said.
Osmar said it was a hard decision for a lot of reason.
"We dedicated ourselves completely to this training season, chasing snow all over the state. The dogs were strong, and we felt we had a competitive team. The trail was fine, and we had no trouble with the gear. So the whole idea of having to scratch from being sick was very disappointing," he said.
As tough as it was on Osmar, he said he feels even worse for all the friends, sponsors and other people who worked so hard this past year. However, he said almost everyone has understood how hard the decision was to make.
"We've been getting lots of support," he said. "We're still getting tons of letters from all over the country."
Although saddened by the bad luck in this year's race, Osmar prefers to look at the glass as half full instead of half empty.
"I feel fortunate in a way," he said. "I've never had trouble before in my racing career, and that's pretty lucky."
He already has been back doing 35-mile runs with his team through the Caribou Hills and plans on continuing to make the most of this year's racing season.
As to if he'll be back in the Iditarod next year, he said, "It's too early to tell."
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