Ultra race winner suffers frostbite, scheduled for amputation

Updated: January 23, 2008, 2:49 PM ET
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- Andrew Wells may pay a heavy price for his victory in last weekend's Frozen Otter Ultra Trek: two toes.

The 27-year-old from Davenport, Iowa, was one of only two competitors to make it past the halfway point of the 64-mile race that started at noon Saturday. He spent nearly 17 hours on the Ice Age Trail in the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest.

At one point, the temperature dropped to nearly 15 below zero.

Wells was the only person to make it past the fifth checkpoint near the 40-mile mark.

He got turned around and mistakenly returned to the finish area, where at 5 a.m. Sunday he was declared the victor for covering the longest distance: 49 miles.

"I guess it was fortunate that I went back to the finish," Wells said. "Otherwise, I would have kept going. At the 40-mile mark, I felt great."

Wells said he never noticed the frostbite set in.

"My feet were obviously frozen, so I couldn't feel them," he said. "And it was too cold to take my shoes off to check my feet. On my hands, I had mittens on, and just to take them off for 30 seconds, my hands got really cold, painful.

"I thought my toes were OK."

After finishing, he went to a friend's home in Madison and napped. He woke to intense pain in his toes. He removed his shoes and discovered a purple discoloration.

Wells, a chiropractic student, tried to warm his feet in warm water and then went to a hospital in Platteville. From there, he went to Iowa University Hospital and clinics in Iowa City, where doctors plan to remove his big toe and the one next to it from his right foot.

He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that surgery is scheduled for Friday.

"There's nothing I can do about it now," he said during an interview from his hospital bed. "I can live a good life without toes.

"I don't think it will slow me down. My balance might be a little bit off, but I'll still continue racing."

Competitors could navigate the trail with any non-motorized form of transportation, such as snowshoes or skis. But most, like Wells, used only shoes and socks.

He plowed through several inches of snow in running shoes, one pair of wool socks and a pair of waterproof socks.

Race director Rod McLennan competes with Wells as part of Team Fat Otter, an Illinois-based adventure racing squad. He said Wells was the only competitor injured.

But most of the 43 starters dropped out after 8 or 16 miles, and only four continued past the 32-mile mark.

"Everybody seemed to really enjoy it and called it quits at the right time and were happy they gave it a shot," McLennan said. "For the most part, they stayed pretty warm when they were moving.

"But they weren't able to stop or slow down."

What did Wells win? A victory package that included energy drinks, gel flasks, Moosejaw adventure gear and a subscription to "Trail Runner" magazine.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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