After a long winter made longer by his injuries, Ira Edwards returned to action Friday night.
Edwards, an Anchorage man who was paralyzed in a 2010 work accident and then broke his femur while racing in a sit-ski at the 2014 Arctic Man, was the lone handcyclist among a crowd of about 2,400 runners in the Skinny Raven's Twilight 12-K and Skinny Mini 6-K races in downtown Anchorage.
He finished the 12-kilometer race in 37 minutes, 26 seconds, almost two minutes faster than men's winner Chad Trammell and more than six minutes faster than women's winner Anna Dalton. Most importantly, he was more than 10 minutes faster than he was two years ago at the Twilight 12-K, a race that happened before the broken leg.
And for that he was happy.
"This is my 30th day training," Edwards said. "Rough winter."
It was a winter with more ice than snow, making outdoor activity difficult for a man who was paralyzed from the waist down nearly five years ago.
"You can't nordic ski when it's icy out. You can't wheelchair when it's icy out," Edwards said. "I fell a lot."
Complicating his winter training are the continuing efforts to fix his right leg, which was broken in three places in 2014 in a high-speed crash at the Arctic Man, one of Alaska's most extreme races. Edwards, 39, hit a bump while racing down a mountain and was thrown from his sit-ski. He said he was traveling 70 mph at the time.
"Wanna see the video?" he said, reaching for his phone. "Everyone wants to see the video."
There are two videos of the crash -- one taken from behind, where Edwards simply disappears in a cloud of snow, and one take at the bottom of the hill, which shows the violence of the crash. First he tumbles head over heel on the sit-ski, then he gets tossed to the ground and careens 300 yards downhill.
"I did the rubber chicken," Edwards said. "Spandex on a steep slope."
Friday's race came after a long day of rain, but the rain stopped by race time and conditions were nearly ideal.
The big turnout of runners crowded downtown streets before the race and filled the west end of the Delaney Park Strip as runners finished. Three bands provided music along the course, a couple of drones flew overhead filming the action and there was a party at the finish line -- beer, pizza, music by DJ Spencer Lee and more.
A new face and a familiar face claimed victories. Trammell, a dentist who recently moved to Anchorage, set the pace in 39 minutes, 13.7 seconds. Dalton, a 2008 West High graduate who is one of the city's best marathoners, topped the women and placed 15th overall in 44:04.1.
Dalton had nearly a four-minute lead over women's runner-up Hallidie Wilt, who dominates in shorter distances. Trammell beat men's runner-up Dylan Peterson by 18 seconds.
"I was hoping to be a little closer to 38:30, but we started out a little slow," Trammell said. "I was happy with the last four miles."
For Edwards, the Twilight 12-K kicked off a summer of racing. He plans to do the Mayor's Marathon later this month and the Big Wild Life marathon in August.
But don't expect to see him back at the Arctic Man, at least not as a racer. Edwards, who was paralyzed in 2010 while clearing trees at Nancy Lake Recreation Area for his job as an Alaska state park ranger, said he's finished with fraught-with-danger events. He plans to return to the HooDoo Mountains for next year's Arctic Man ski-and-snowmachine race, but he'll be there to wax skis for other skiers.
"I have a strong sense of survival," Edwards said. "I wear body armor for everything. I've seen (disabled) people get hurt again, and I don't want to be one of those guys.
"Some of them think they can't get hurt any worse, and they can. I know I can get hurt worse. I'm still doing things as hard as I can, but I have no aspiration to end up in the hospital again."
Reach Beth Bragg at 257-4335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.