Despite broken arm, First Dude crosses Iron Dog finish in fourth

Posted: Monday, February 18, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Not only is he the First Dude, but Todd Palin is one tough dude.

John Wagner / Fairbanks Daily News Miner
John Wagner / Fairbanks Daily News Miner

The husband of Gov. Sarah Palin, or First Dude, as Alaskans have come to call him, survived a high-speed crash on Friday in which he broke his arm and had to be towed across the Chena River finish line in Fairbanks on Saturday after his snowmachine died, but he still finished the world's longest, toughest snowmachine race in fourth place.

Not bad considering that just the day before he was lying in the snow, curled up in the fetal position after crashing into a hidden barrel outside the village of Galena.

Of course, the governor would expect nothing less.

"The last thing he ever wants to do is scratch," she said as she waited for her husband to arrive in the sub-zero cold on the Chena River at Pike's Landing. "If there's any way he can finish the race, he's going to finish it."

Just like last year, Gov. Palin was there to wave the checkered finish flag Saturday for her husband when his partner, Scott Davis, towed him across the finish line. But unlike last year, Palin and Davis weren't in first place.

Todd Palin's Arctic Cat quit about five miles out of Nenana and Davis had to tow him the final 50 miles to Fairbanks. They lost a place in the standings in the process, falling from third to fourth.

Gov. Palin was just happy to see her husband in one piece. She greeted him with a warm smile, a hug and a pat on the back before noticing the ripped sleeve and missing pocket on his Gore-Tex jacket, both evidence of Palin's wreck the day before as he and Davis were challenging for the race lead.

Palin's machine, too, showed signs of the crash. In addition to the tow rope attaching it to Davis's sled, a bungee cord was strapped across the cowling to keep the green hood in place.

The 43-year-old Palin, a four-time Iron Dog champ, said it was the worst crash he has had in 15 years on the Iron Dog trail. He estimates he was going 50 to 60 mph when he hit the metal drum near the end of a runway on the outskirts of the village.

"Usually if you see something and you know you're going to hit something, you can brace for it," he said. "I didn't see this. It was under fresh snow. It just caught me by surprise."

The snowmachine stopped but Palin didn't. He landed about 70 feet from the machine. Davis saw the wreck out of the corner of his eye and said, "It looked like he hit a roadside bomb."

Davis quickly doubled back and found Palin on the ground, doubled over, holding his right arm. The snowmachine was upside down. Davis loaded Palin onto his snowmachine and took him to the village clinic, where he was given a clean bill of health.

It wasn't until after the race, when Palin went to get the arm checked at Fairbanks Urgent Care, that doctors detected a fracture and put a cast on his arm.

The governor found out about the crash from people following the race on the Internet.

"I started getting e-mails from people saying, 'I'm sorry to hear about your husband' and 'I'm praying for you' and I said, 'Oh my God, what happened?"' she said, laughing.

It wasn't until Todd Palin called his wife from Galena shortly after the crash to tell her he was OK that she got the straight scoop. And even then, her husband left a few things out.

"He said, 'I got bumped around a little bit,"' Gov. Palin said. "He didn't tell me he'd been to a clinic to get looked at or anything.'"

They managed to stay in the race and were even able to remain in the hunt until machine troubles slowed them on Saturday and dropped them to fourth place.

While his crash may or may not have cost him and Davis the race, both in terms of lost time and damage to the machine, Todd Palin said it would have been nice to find out.

"Definitely if I didn't hit that drum we would have been in real good position," he said.

But that's life on the Iron Dog trail, he said.

"It's a mine field out there," he said. "You never know what's going to get you."

The crash that broke her husband's arm was unfortunate but it doesn't change Gov. Palin's attitude toward the Iron Dog, she said. If her husband wants to race snowmachines at 100 mph across the frozen Alaska wilderness, that's his option, the governor said.

"These are big boys; they make their own decisions," she said of her husband and other Iron Dog racers. "They're hard-core Alaskans doing hard-core adventures. I totally support him, and I totally support the race. I love it."

And Gov. Palin couldn't be prouder of her husband.

"Going 400 miles with a broken arm, that's impressive," she said.

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