Hank DeBruin ends his run on Yukon Quest
By Angelica Ingram
For the first time since he became a musher, Hank DeBruin has decided to withdraw from a race before completing it.
On Friday, Feb. 12, DeBruin’s wife Tanya McCready-DeBruin announced on their Winterdance Dogsled Tours’ Facebook page her husband was not going to be able to complete the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest.
A media release issued by the Yukon Quest stated DeBruin (bib No. 10) made the decision to scratch for the health and morale of his team. He scratched with nine dogs left.
The news followed daily updates on DeBruin’s race thus far, which had been met with many challenges and battles, including weather conditions and the health of his Siberian Huskies.
The Yukon Quest, which stretches from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, only had 23 mushers competing this year.
Beginning the race on Feb. 6, DeBruin, 53, lost one of his dogs, Charlie, during the first half of the stretch.
According to an article published in a Fairbanks newspaper, DeBruin used an emergency beacon to call for help after Charlie suffered some serious health problems that had her dropping to the ground and going completely rigid.
Using the beacon means mushers are disqualified, however that was a chance DeBruin was willing to take to save the life of a dog, as he thought she was dying.
In the end Charlie was rescued and is doing fine and DeBruin was allowed to continue on the race, but eventually scratched in Eagle, Alaska.
The race marshal’s decision to allow DeBruin to continue after he used the beacon was precedent setting and will likely result in the Yukon Quest rules being revisited next year, according to the article.
As of Feb. 11 the musher was down from 14 dogs on his team to nine, with K2, Hosta, Garrett and Wyatt unable to continue racing, according to Facebook posts.
The small number was making it difficult for the team, which was expressed by McCready-DeBruin on their Facebook page.
On Feb. 12, she wrote that after a long talk with DeBruin and a look at the upcoming forecast, which was predicting between 12 to 24 inches of fresh snow, the couple decided it would be in the best interest for the dogs to withdraw.
“Mushers coming off the trail this morning are talking of no trail markers left on Top of the World highway and white-out conditions,” wrote McCready-DeBruin. “Long and short of it, asking our dogs to run 150 miles in conditions like that without any other teams to help take the burden of breaking trail will break the team down both mentally and physically.”
At that point DeBruin was running in last place. The decision marked the first time DeBruin had ever not finished a race, including the Iditarod in 2010, which made it even more difficult to do.
“But we both feel it is the only decision to be made for the team,” said McCready-DeBruin.
“We want them to love what they do, and asking them to do this run may change that. We hope to be back on the Yukon Quest trail next winter, we love this race. Despite the beautiful weather that started this race, since the second day on the trail this race has been challenge after challenge for our team. The dogs are all physically fine, but are mentally tired from the number of times they have turned around on this trail.”
Unable to make it to the halfway point, which is Dawson City, Yukon, DeBruin will fly out with the team and his gear and will have to bear the financial burden.
“The race didn’t end the way we had planned but there is no doubt Hank and the team gave it their all, and that is all anyone can ever do,” wrote McCready-DeBruin.
“Our team will be back on the Yukon Quest trail again and until then we wish all the mushers (many of whom are our dearest friends) still continuing on an amazing race. To the Quest organization, staff, vets, judges, race marshal, trail breakers, volunteers, checkpoints and anyone else I miss, your support in this race has been overwhelming. Even this morning when I talked to the race marshal Doug about our options he was emphatic that he wanted Hank to finish, he (and we) just didn’t know how to make that possible in the given conditions and circumstances.”
McCready-DeBruin went on to say the decision was not made lightly and that the support she and her husband received brings her to tears.
“To all of you who make the experience so much more by your support in every way we can’t thank you enough. To those of you who sponsor the team financially so we can run these races, you make it all possible! It brings tears to my eyes as I type this. I hope you all know how much you mean to all of us and what a hard decision this has been. So much more I want to say but words are failing me.”
Messages of support were flooding the Winterdance Dogsled Tours Facebook page throughout DeBruin’s race and after they made the announcement of withdrawing.
Gail Petlig wrote, “You and the team are amazing and made the best decision for all to be safe! You are a winner.”
“Nothing but respect and admiration,” wrote Marnie Martin. “Such a rough journey but safety for Hank and the dogs is always the best decision. Still an inspiration to me and so many fans.”
The decision to embark on the Yukon Quest is a costly one, with unexpected logistics of leaving from Eagle, Alaska, making it even more so.
The couple have an online fundraising page, where anyone can sponsor them.
To donate visit www.gofundme.com/winterdancequest.