The Iditarod Race is one of the toughest and most challenging dog sled races across the world, with its 938-mile route stretching from Anchorage to Nome. For the participants, completing this race is considered to be a major accomplishment, earning the title of an Iditarod finisher.

However, the current edition of the race has been full of surprises, with the defending champion, Thomas Waerner, quitting this year’s race due to health issues. This news comes as a shock to the community, as Waerner was one of the top contenders to win the race.

Waerner, who hails from Norway, decided to drop out of the race citing concerns about COVID-19 and logistical issues. Waerner’s decision was based on his reasoning that he may not be able to travel back to his home country after the race due to travel restrictions, which could affect him being with his wife and children.

While these issues may have played a significant role, Waerner has also been dealing with an injury he sustained during the race. According to reports, Waerner’s dogs pulled him off the sled, causing him to land awkwardly on his shoulder.

The incident took place on the Shaktoolik checkpoint, where Waerner reported experiencing severe pain in his shoulder. The pain was so intense that it was even affecting his ability to handle the sled. After undergoing a medical examination, Waerner was advised to leave the race to seek immediate medical attention.

Many were expecting Waerner to retain his title and become the first back-to-back Iditarod champion since the legendary Lance Mackey accomplished the same feat back in 2007 and 2008. However, Waerner’s decision to leave the race now puts his dreams of back-to-back wins on hold and gives his rivals a clear advantage.

The defending champion’s departure has come as a big blow to the dog sled racing community, which is still reeling from the impact of COVID-19 on the sport. With travel restrictions, testing requirements, and other logistical issues, the 2021 Iditarod has been one of the most challenging races in recent years.

Despite the adversity, the organizers of the race have done an excellent job of ensuring the safety and well-being of the participants. They have made the necessary changes to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and other safety concerns associated with the race.

In light of Waerner’s decision to drop out, many of his rivals have stepped up their game, with Aliy Zirkle and Aaron Burmeister assuming the top positions. The two seasoned Iditarod veterans have been neck-to-neck throughout the race, with Zirkle currently occupying the top spot.

Zirkle, who finished second in 2012, has been a consistent performer in the Iditarod over the years. She has been racing for more than two decades and has bagged many titles in her illustrious career.

On the other hand, Burmeister has been competing in dog sled racing for over two decades and has participated in the Iditarod for 18 years. He finished third in the race in 2014, which is his highest-ever finish. Burmeister is currently hot on the heels of Aliy Zirkle, and the two are expected to challenge each other for the top spot in the remaining stages of the race.

As for Waerner, he is headed back to Norway for treatment and recovery. He has expressed his disappointment at not being able to complete the race, but he remains optimistic about his chances of participating in the race again in the future.

Overall, the departure of the defending champion has made the race more exciting, with the top contenders going head-to-head for the top position. However, Waerner’s exit has also highlighted the challenges and uncertainties that dog sled racers face on the Iditarod trail. In any case, the race continues, and the remaining contestants are determined to push themselves to the limit to achieve their goal of becoming an Iditarod finisher.