‘Brentʼs the one whoʼs usually doing the saving’
This time, it was Hugh Neff who played the hero.
Photo by Marcel Vander Wier
CROSSING THE ARTERY – Yukon Quest race official Scott Smith guides injured musher Brent Sassʼs dog team across the Klondike Hig hway into the Braeburn checkpoint Sunday afternoon. A Yukon Quest photographer is laying on the highway to take a photo of the team (top). HELPING HANDS AT THE READY – Yukon Quest musher Brent Sass is placed onto a plane on a stretcher Sunday afternoon in Braeburn. The 34-year-old suffered a head injury in a fall on the trail from Carmacks to Braeburn.
BRAEBURN – This time, it was Hugh Neff who played the hero.
The Tok, Alaska musher was the first Yukon Quest competitor to reach the scene of an injury to Brent Sass on Sunday afternoon.
Sass, 34, suffered a head injury after falling off his sled about 18 km (12 miles) outside of Braeburn.
The Eureka, Alaska musher had been running second to eventual winner Allen Moore before the incident.
After leading Sassʼs dog team into the Braeburn checkpoint Sunday afternoon, Neff recalled the scene to reporters.
“Iʼm in shock. I think we all are in shock still,” the 46-year-old said.
“I donʼt even know what happened. (Sass) somehow wiped out and hit his head, I think, on the ground. Whether youʼre a musher or anybody, that could happen to anyone really.”
Neff said when he arrived, he met a Canadian Ranger who was keeping Sassʼs dog team company.
Neff went right to work, pulling two bags of thawed meat off his sled to feed to his rivalʼs team.
“Obviously, everybodyʼs concerned about Brent,” said Neff, the Questʼs 2012 champion.
“The funny thing is, Brentʼs the one whoʼs usually doing the saving. What goes around, comes around. Iʼm just glad I was there to be there to help.”
Neff said he spent approximately two hours at the scene, but added his dogs didnʼt mind the unexpected break.
“What my dogs did mind was, as we were feeding Brentʼs dogs, I look over and my whole team is giving me this nasty look like, ʻHey, pal, have they been pulling you around for the last 1,000 miles?ʼ”
Neff said the incident is a tough one to swallow, admitting he was rooting for Sass to win his first Yukon Quest.
“Every time I look at his team, it looks like a Jack London novel or a Walt Disney movie,” he said.
“Itʼs just one of the prettiest dog teams Iʼve seen in my life. And all of a sudden, Iʼm getting to feed this team and hang out with them?
“Then again, weʼre all worried about Brent more than anything.”
He said Sassʼs dogs refused to lead with race official Scott Smith on the runners, so Neff led the way over the last 12 miles.
Smith competed in the Quest last year, winning rookie of the year honours.
The trail to the finish line out of Braeburn will be different for Neff this time around, he said.
“This yearʼs not much of a race per se, because weʼre so far ahead of everybody else, so for me, this is just a journey. Iʼve done this race for 14 years now, and thereʼs never a dull moment.
“I think weʼre all bummed, severely,” he said of Sassʼs injury.
“To see a guy – he was basically having what we call the magic carpet ride – and to see it just fall apart … You know what I said? I said, ʻHe pulled a Neff.ʼ Iʼve been there and Iʼve fallen apart too.”
Neff wasnʼt interested in taking credit for the latest rescue on the Yukon Quest trail.
“People want to make the mushers the heroes, but the real heroes are the dogs,” he said.
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