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Racer Quits Iditarod as Eyes Freeze

March 14, 2004|Mary Pemberton | Associated Press Writer

TAKOTNA, Alaska — Four-time winner Doug Swingley dropped out of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race last week, saying his corneas had frozen along a treacherous part of the trail.

Swingley, 50, of Lincoln, Mont., said he injured his eyes when he took off his goggles because they were fogging up as he went down the Dalzell Gorge two days earlier. The problem worsened as the race progressed.

"I came in here blind in one eye," Swingley said Wednesday, sitting at the table reserved for mushers at the Takotna Lodge checkpoint, 694 miles from the Nome finish line. "It isn't getting any better."

Swingley won the race in 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001, came in 40th in 2002, then took a break in 2003. He said he entered this year because he needed a new truck -- one of the prizes.

Later in the day, Martin Buser was the first competitor to pull into Cripple, the official halfway mark, 609 miles from the Nome finish line. He won $4,000 in gold nuggets. Buser won the 2003 race.

Mitch Seavey was second into Cripple, followed by John Baker.

A record 87 mushers, including four former champions, entered the 2004 Iditarod. This year's purse is more than $700,000 with a first-place prize of $69,000 and a new Dodge truck.

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