Bryan Bearss Named as Substitute for Injured Musher Karin Hendrickson

Last week, six-time Iditarod musher Karin Hendrickson suffered injuries that will prevent her from participating in the 2015 Iditarod.  Hendrickson is on the road to recovery, and it was announced Wednesday that, while she will miss the race, her dogs will not.

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Last week, Karin Hendrickson was injured in an accident that epitomizes being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  She was on a training run with her dog team and a four-wheeler to the side of the Parks Highway when a vehicle lost control on the icy road and struck her.  Hendrickson suffered three broken vertebrae and an injury to her leg.   She counts herself lucky, given the circumstances.

Karin Hendrickson. (Alaska Public Media photo)
Karin Hendrickson. (Alaska Public Media photo)

“It’s pretty incredible, because people don’t usually get hit by cars and walk away from it.  I didn’t walk away, but I’m doing really well.”

Karin Hendrickson is beginning inpatient therapy, which will be followed by more physical therapy after she is released.  She says that her injuries will prevent her from continuing to train for the 2015 Iditarod.

“I just have to be really careful and not do anything jarring or jumping around, which means no dogs for quite a good, long while.”

Like many mushers, Karin Hendrickson is as concerned, if not more so, for her team than herself in some regards.  She did not like the idea of her dogs missing this year’s race .

“I thought about these dogs.  What they love to do is run. What they love to do is go out, race, and experience new things.  They really do love it, and I just felt horrible to have them spend an entire year where they weren’t going to be able to do those things.

That’s where Bryan Bearss comes in.  He is a friend of Hendrickson’s and a veteran of the 2006 Iditarod.  Karin Hendrickson says that he is good with dog teams, and is a good choice to get on the runners behind her dogs.

“Having Bryan come on board and take them down the trail is–I think it’s great for everybody…except me.  I get left out.”

Bryan Bearss agreed, and now has the task of readying himself and the team for the race in March.

“I’m compacting twelve months of planning, preparation, and fundraising into a three-month period.”

Bearss says he has been training for a canoe marathon, so has been keeping himself in good physical shape.  For the planning and training side, he says he will rely on the work that Karin Hendrickson has already done.

“It’s just going to be a little sit-down with Karin and look at the schedule she’s set up for her dogs.  It’s her race.  I’m just going to be the jockey.”

After the planning will come the actual runs with the dogs.   Since Bryan Bearss’ has a full-time job during the week, his ability to run the dogs is limited to weekends.

“Every Friday night, after I finish work in the Anchorage School District, I’m going to be hopping in the car with my two dogs, driving up to Talkeetna, and putting in some long runs Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, then racing back to Anchorage so I’m ready for work on Monday.”

One other impact of Karin Hendrickson’s injury is that she will miss work in the coming weeks, and owning a sled dog kennel is expensive.  She says the community response has been substantial, especially over social media.

“I made a little comment on Facebook to say, ‘Don’t send me flowers.  Send me dog food.’  There’s been an account set up at Underdog Feeds.  It’s hard for me to keep track of things from a hospital bed, but it seems like there’s plenty of money for dog food for a month or two.”

Multiple other fundraisers are underway as well.  Karin Hendrickson says she hasn’t been able to keep up with them all, but that most are being organized or advertised on Facebook as well.

While she won’t be able to compete in the 2015 Iditarod, Karin Hendrickson says she doesn’t think her mushing days are over.

“I’ve got a lot of healing to do, but I think I’ll be back next year.”