Tom Kurtovich has been working with the Superior 100 since its first year. In that first race, on the original course that ran from Silver Bay to the Cook County High School in Grand Marais, he was working an aid station at County Road 6 when a man came up to him and said, “I heard my runner has a broken leg. Don’t worry though. I’ve got another one. “ The man explained that his runner was a Vietnam veteran with a prosthetic leg. This man talking to Tom didn’t look like a runner—he was out of shape, but he started hiking, carrying the new and unbroken leg in his hands. As he entered the woods he switched to carry the leg over his shoulder, with the foot right behind his head. He would soon encounter the steep and rocky climb to the top of Sawmill Dome, followed by more rugged trail.
Not knowing any other details, Tom tried to decide if he should send in more help, and if so, which entry points the help should follow. He could send someone in here, but what if the runner had just started the section and was only a short distance from Highway 1 instead? This is rough terrain and a drive to Highway 1 would get the help there much faster. If the runner needed to be carried out for some reason, or required some kind of emergency help, they needed to know the best and shortest way to carry him. Tom asked incoming runners if they had seen a guy with a broken leg. He didn’t know how else to word the question.
No one had seen him.
Not even the last runner.
Finally, Tom talked to a pair of backpackers who had seen the runner. Around the same time, he spotted the crew person coming out of the woods and heading for his truck, sweating and puffing and walking slowly. He was still carrying the intact leg.
“Well?” Tom said.
“I got all the way in there and he said this one’s the wrong foot.” The guy talked slowly, catching his breath. “Apparently this is his swimming foot. I need to get the leg with the running foot.”
By now other volunteers had gathered and stood in a circle with Tom and the other man still huffing and sweating. Dave Leslie was there too. They were all in awe of this runner out there on the trail, attempting to run 100 miles with only one of his legs the one he had been born with. They wanted to do something, anything they could to get him moving.
“He’s finished 50s,” the crew person said.
Harry Sloan had heard about the situation through the radio. He pulled up in his truck with a young kid—maybe high school or early college—in the passenger seat. Harry rolled his window down and Tom explained the situation.
“Scott here’s a fast skier,” Harry said nodding to the kid beside him. This was before Scott Jurek was known as a runner. “We’ll send the leg with him.”
The crew person dug the running leg out of his truck. They put the leg in a backpack, with the foot sticking out the open top. The running foot, this time. Scott Jurek took off using his ski poles as trekking poles.
“I’ll come too,” Dave Leslie said. Everyone wanted to do something to help this guy achieve his finish.
Before Scott and Dave disappeared into the woods, Tom called them back. “The shoe,” he said. “He’ll need that.” Tom pulled the leg out of the backpack and switched the running shoe from the swimming leg to the running leg. He sent Scott Jurek and Dave Leslie back into the woods, up Sawmill Dome, in search of the runner with the broken leg.