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Tragedies may bring changes to Mount Marathon race

Posted: July 11, 2012 - 12:02am

ANCHORAGE — After a year in which tragedy struck the Mount Marathon race, changes are likely in the works for the race held each Fourth of July in Seward.

Cindy Clock with the Seward Chamber of Commerce, the organization that hosts the race, told the Anchorage Daily News that a panel of volunteer directors has not yet met to talk about the future of the race. The panel has been consumed with the ongoing search for one of the race participants, she said.

“We’d be silly to say, ‘No, it’s fine the way it is,’ “ Clock said of the race.

This year’s Mount Marathon race was unlike any before in the race’s 85-year history. One man is missing — last seen about 200 yards from the top — and another is in an induced coma in the hospital after being critically injured in a fall.

Michael LeMaitre, 66, of Anchorage was last seen about 200 feet from the top of Mount Marathon. The rookie runner was spotted by timekeeping volunteers ending their day on their way down the mountain, according to the chamber.

Alaska State Troopers, mountaineers and dozens of volunteers found no sign of LaMaitre.

Troopers ended their search over the weekend, but the Seward Volunteer Fire Department has continued the hunt, with at least 11 volunteers combing the mountain or surrounding area Monday, a deputy fire chief said.

Meanwhile, veteran Mount Marathon racer Matthew Kenney, 41, is in Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage in an induced coma. Alaska Mountain Runners president Brad Precosky said Kenney suffered a broken skull, broke his right leg and sustained other injuries in a fall along the cliffs at the mountain’s base.

“He’s had a head injury with indication toward brain trauma,” Precosky said.

Kenney has two children, ages 12 and 10, he said.

Precosky described Kenney as a capable and accomplished mountain racer who took one bad step at the bottom of the mountain.

To bound downhill, just on the edge of out-of-control, is what elite racers shoot for, he said.

“We make these decisions, to run as fast as we can. To choose that mountain race. To go fast on the downhill. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we’re rewarded for it.”

Fred Moore, 72, has completed the three-mile race 43 times. He told the Anchorage Daily News that two potential rule changes could be made in the wake of LeMaitre’s disappearance. He suggested instituting a mid-race checkpoint. Participants would be required to reach a milestone along the course within a given time limit or be disqualified.

He also said assigning a trail sweeper or team of sweepers to follow back-of-the-pack participants would be a good idea. That way they could make sure they safely scale the mountain and arrive back at the finish line.

Clock said there were no formal trail sweepers for the men’s competition this year.

“Apparently there have been in the past. But again, most of the people are participating in the race who have those kinds of capabilities,” she said.

One witness said LeMaitre was in last place and moving slowly on the mountain Wednesday before his disappearance. Dick Sheasley, 59, of Anchorage, said he thought he was in last place during this year’s Mount Marathon but was about halfway down the mountain when he looked up and saw a man he now believes was LeMaitre.

“He’s got a long way to go,” Sheasley recalled thinking.

The last people to see LeMaitre were a crew of volunteers. At about 6 p.m., a small group that had been timing runners at the top of the mountain was on its way down the trail when they saw LeMaitre approaching the turn-around point.

LeMaitre told the lead timer he wanted to keep going, according to the Chamber of Commerce statement. The volunteer reported that LeMaitre looked to be in good condition and the timing crew continued down the mountain.

This is the first time a participant has disappeared in the race that began in 1916.

___

Information from: Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.adn.com

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