One Northland sled dog’s journey back to racing after tragic crash

Redington Mushing training for the 2023 Beargrease
Redington Mushing training for the 2023 Beargrease(Northern News Now)
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 7:34 PM CST
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BRULE, WI. (Northern News Now) -In the backwoods of Brule, Wisconsin, the team at Redington Mushing is preparing for their biggest races of the year.

But last year at this time, the Redington team was facing a much bigger challenge. They were helping one of their own start the long road to recovery.

Their all-star sled dog ‘Wildfire’ was struck by a snowmobile while out for a training run with his team last winter, breaking his leg in several places.

“It was so bad that I thought his leg was going to be amputated because of how bad and swollen it was,” said Ryan Redington, two-time Beargrease champion.

This tragic crash left an irreplaceable gap in a team of well-trained sled dogs.

“We struggled to find multiple dogs that could fill the hole that he left,” said Sarah Keefer with Redington Mushing.

After the crash, Wildfire was brought down to Mission Animal Hospital in the Twin Cities, where Duluth native Dr. Heather Hadley and her team took on the challenge of this case head-on, determined to help in whatever way they could.

“From the get-go, they were committed to seeing him through whatever surgeries it was going to take, and then we were right there with him, no matter what the cost was going to be, I wanted to see that happen,” said Keefer.

During his time there, Wildfire underwent multiple surgeries and therapies to get his leg back to full strength.

“I don’t think any one of us involved necessarily knew if he was going to be able to race again,” said Dr. Heather Hadley, DVM, DACVS .”That is just a whole other level of athletic ability that is needed post-surgery, post-recovery.”

As Wildfire recovered, he quickly left his mark on his team, leading Dr. Hadley to open not only her heart to him but also her home.

“We really realized Ryan and Sarah needed help,” said Dr. Hadley. “They were about to be on their way to Alaska to continue with their winter racing, and they were really wondering how they were going to do this successful recovery, and so we came up with the plan that he would come and live with us while they were in Alaska.”

Dr. Hadley was able to monitor Wildfire’s progress up close, giving him the best tools for success.

“We started to think, ‘hey, maybe there is a chance here,’” said Dr. Hadley.

Wildfire eventually made a full recovery and is now back doing what he loves—defying the odds every step of the way.

“Just every time, he has shown us he is getting better, and he is ready to go the extra distance,” said Keefer.

Wildfire proving that with the right team behind them, nothing can stop a sled dog from the wide open trail.

“I think that Wildfire actually did most of the work, and that is what is so incredible to see is that he wanted it, and he went out there and got it,” said Dr. Hadley.

Dr. Hadley said while she was confident Wildfire would be able to recover physically, she was more worried about his mental recovery after such a traumatic event, but Sarah and Ryan say Wildfire has jumped back on the trail and even raced for the first time at the Gunflint Mail Run earlier this month.

Keefer says she plans to have him on her team during this year’s Beargrease with Dr. Hadley and her husband along for the ride as a part of her handling team.

Stay with Northern News Now as we follow mushing teams up the shore for this year’s John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. Coverage kicks off Sunday at 10 P.M. on Northern News Now.

Beargrease Coverage
Beargrease Coverage(Northern News Now)