Yukon Quest musher Kleedehn finishes race in hospital

Posted: Monday, February 23, 2004

WHITEHOUSE, Yukon - Yukon Quest musher William Kleedehn has been telling people he was the first into Whitehorse. Trouble is, he never reached the finish line.

Instead, Kleedehn, last year's race runner-up, sat in a bed at Whitehorse General Hospital where doctors are been monitoring his broken left leg above where he normally wears a prosthesis.

On Feb. 22, a day into the race, the veteran musher was running at the front of the pack a few miles from the Mile 101 stop. The trail was littered with sections of bare ice mushers call glaciers.

Kleedehn hit a glacier where the trail sloped sideways.

"I was just sliding down and sideways a little bit and needed to stop that. So, somehow I just slipped and I was falling back with the sled in my hand," Kleedehn told the Whitehorse Star. "The left foot, or the prosthesis, got hung up in the sled a little bit, momentarily and I fell back."

The weight went on the leg as he slid.

"The whole combination was just good enough, boom, leg broke," he said.

He figures because the leg broke because it was able to come out of the prosthesis slightly.

Kleedehn knew right away he had a big problem. His dogs took the sled off the ice and back on to solid trail. In absolute agony, Kleedehn was able to get a snow hook down.

"I never let go of that sled," said Kleedehn, even though it was flipped on its side. With the sled stopped and tied down, the dogs eventually laid down and Kleedehn tried to relax and find a position that didn't hurt much. He waited for another musher to come along or someone to spot him from the highway, which was not far from where the team had stopped.

Kleedehn was spotted after about 15 minutes by assistant race manager Wendel Carey, who was driving the road in a pickup truck. Officials sent a snowmobile out just to take Kleedehn off the trail to the highway and into the truck.

Kleedehn said he was lucky the accident happened during a race and not on a training run when he was alone.

"A race is easy - there's always someone looking out for you," he said.

His team had been looking good.

"They were right in the groove," Kleedehn said of his dogs. He said the team was feeling as good as it did during the Copper Basin 300 race last month, which he won.

Kleedehn was treated at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. When he was discharged from the Alaska hospital, he climbed into his dog truck to head back to Carcross, with his handler at the wheel.

However, less than 200 miles down the road, the truck, which Kleedehn acknowledges does not have a great suspension, hit a bump, jostling the leg and sending agonizing pain through his body.

He took painkillers to finish the 620-mile drive from to his home in Carcross, Yukon, but his problems were not over.

"My stubbornness got me in trouble," he said.

Kleedehn stopped taking the painkillers and just spent his time around his cabin, following the race on his computer. As he was moving around the house, he could feel the muscle twitch, which caused severe pain in the leg.

Later, he became very cold despite the fact he was near the fire. He decided to return to the Whitehorse hospital for more care.

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