Oak Creek's Thurston pulls out of Iditarod

Illness sweeps musher’s dog team during Alaskan sled race

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Tom Thurston

It certainly wasn’t easy the first time. Oak Creek musher Tom Thurston said his run in last year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was cold, grueling and difficult.

He found out just how hard that 1,150-mile race could be this year, however. Thurston was almost a week into his second running of the race when he pulled out early Friday morning.

He finished last year’s race with 12 of his 16 dogs. When he withdrew Friday he had just 11 healthy animals remaining, having dropped the other five at previous checkpoints.

“He pulled out in the best interest of his team,” Thurston’s wife, Tami, said Saturday night. “He had already dropped three dogs, then had to leave two more. Then when he got to the next checkpoint only two of his 11 ate and they had fevers.”

Thurston had set a top-30 finish in the 71-competitor field as his goal, and despite drawing the 67th starting position, he was in good shape after the first couple of days, riding in 32nd at one point.

But he slowed as his dogs dealt with illness.

“Obviously, there was something wrong,” Tami Thurston said. “Dogs that would never not pull were not pulling. He just felt if he kept running them he would jeopardize the team, and he would never do something like that.”

Thurston ma­­­de it to the checkpoint at Ophir, Alaska, 444 miles

from the starting line in Anchorage, but still nearly 700 miles from the finish.

“He’s bum­med, but he kno­ws he made a good decision,” Tami Thurston said. “It was just a totally different case than last year, but that’s what the Iditarod is.

“I’m just glad he’s coming home with all the dogs.”

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