Braeburn, YK - A morning filled with excitement on the Yukon Quest Trail turned into a somber afternoon Sunday after musher Brent Sass was flown to the hospital in Whitehorse with a minor head injury. Sass’s withdraw means Allen Moore’s run to the finish is not only lonely, but also bittersweet.
Allen Moore and Brent Sass left the Carmacks checkpoint within two hours of each other late Saturday night. It would be a race to the finish line, or so they believed. But that race never came to be. “We were just right together," says Allen Moore. "Our dogs, both of our teams were similar and it would have been something.”
Somewhere in the early hours of Sunday morning, Moore passed Sass and his dog team on the trail.
“When you’re behind somebody, then you can help them, but if you’re in front you can’t because you don’t know anything about it, so I wished I would have known it.”
After Moore passed him, Brent Sass sustained a minor head injury. The details are murky – did he fall asleep on the back of his sled and hit his head on the ground? Did he smack a tree? Was there ice? According to race officials, even Sass himself couldn’t explain exactly what happened. He wasn’t speaking clearly after Canadian Rangers rescued him by snow machine.
Friends of the 34-year old were in Braeburn to help care for dogs and watch the musher compete in his 8th Yukon Quest. In the afternoon, sunshine, they helped lift Sass, who was strapped to a backboard onto a waiting airplane. He was flown to the hospital in Whitehorse for medical care.
Before the plane took off, Allen Moore said goodbye to Sass. Friends and family who were present say the scene was extremely emotional. Moore apparently told Sass it was a sad end to what otherwise would have been a great race. He says Sass’s accident has completely changed his perspective. “Yeah it’s definitely a different mindset now," says Moore. "The racing is not there now. It’s just the finishing.”
As Moore’s team left, Sass’s team was coming in. Hugh Neff and a Canadian Ranger spent most of the afternoon with the team parked alongside the trail. Neff had a cooker fired up. He heated water and thawed meat to feed them. “It’s a horrible situation, but I’ve had a few myself over the years and I feel for Brent and it’s just tough because he was having such an amazing run," says Neff.
They waited for Race Judge Scott Smith to arrive. The plan was for Smith to drive the team to Braeburn.
“Brent really had a great run going. He’s got beautiful dogs. That’s not a question. That dog team didn’t quit him. It was an accident and those things happen.”
When he finally climbed on the runners, Smith says the team hesitated, but eventually they decided to follow Hugh Neff. "Those dogs are Brent’s world and Brent’s their world," says Smith. "So 900 miles into a race, you go hopping on some guy’s dog team and they’re going to respond like ‘Who’s this guy?’ You know, it took a while to get them started and Hugh waited around which was nice.”
A small crowd cheered as twelve Wild and Free sled dogs came into Braeburn with upright tails, alert and energetic. One of Sass’s dogs rode in the sled dog after Smith decided he might be dehydrated. Hugh Neff says it was an impressive run. “I almost wanted to take the team and ride the team in and let Scott take my team,” Neff smiles.
The mood was decidedly somber in Braeburn all afternoon and into the evening, but Neff says the incident won’t change his attitude. "Whenever, I’m on the Quest trail, I always go all out," Neff says. "I think it’s like my duty to give it everything I got. But I look at it as I came upon the situation for a reason, my main concern was making sure the dogs were ok.”
Both Neff and Scott Smith say despite the seriousness of Brent Sass’s accident, they tried to maintain a positive attitude as they drove both teams down the trail. After all, says Smith, Sass’s motto is ‘Attitude is Everything.’
“Attitude is everything!" says Smith. "You have to think about that. That’s how he runs those dogs and that’s how they respond and positive reinforcement goes a long way,” he says.
There’s no word on Sass’s condition. According to the race organization any further updates will be released by his family.