Monson: Come grizzlies or great whites, Dunn chases his dreams
If this is a story you've heard before, it now is a story you can help alter. Mike Dunn has told the bulk of it in public settings some 1,000 times, and probably another 10,000 times in private. On this day, he is sitting in my family room, cruelly and ironically enough, directly under a framed four-by-six-foot wildlife photograph of a grizzly bear hanging on the wall.
Oops. Karma or coincidence can be a tough mother. But so is Dunn.
He settles in and tells the tale one more time, 19 years after it happened.
Running down a mountain path on a glorious summer morning in Grand Teton National Park, taking in all of nature's wonders with every stride, Dunn wanted to believe he was as alone in that wilderness as any man could be.
He was dead wrong. Almost dead.
Dunn had seen a big pile of berries a mile or so back, a hint that a hungry animal had been foraging in the area. He also saw a large foot print in the soft dirt. But the intoxication of the run a phenomenon familiar to most distance runners, especially those training for a marathon blurred and numbed his good senses as he forthrightly plowed on across the trail.
"Denial," he says. "You're in denial that anything could happen."
And, suddenly, anything did happen, chasing unhelpful denial straight into the dark tall pines, causing all of Dunn's slumbering senses to explode at a horrifying reality.
The first thing he heard was the cracking of thick branches. The first thing he saw was a large object, with the shape of a boulder, rolling toward him from his left. The first thing he felt was a combo-deal the massive impact of a 500-pound grizzly knocking him off his feet and, then, the razor teeth of the bear digging deeper and deeper into his hip as it bobbed its giant head to get a better grip.
"It was like a machine vice clamping down on me," Dunn says.
In that moment, he felt one other thing: terror.
"I looked around at all the green bushes and saw red splashed across them, as though it came from a bucket of paint," he says. "And I knew it was my blood. It's a sobering thought to realize, 'I'm going to die. I'm going to die today on a dusty trail in the middle of nowhere.' I was 10 miles from the nearest back road, the bear was huge, I knew I couldn't outrun it. There was no escape. I thought about my three kids and my wife. And then I thought, 'I hope it happens real quick.' "
"It" didn't happen quick. And, ultimately, "it" didn't happen at all.
The grizzly slashed open Dunn's flesh across his back, Freddy Krueger-style. It jabbed a claw into his mouth and tore a gash across his face. It ripped apart the sartorius muscle in his right leg, and left 16 invasive wound sites around his body.
But, somehow, none of those invasions cut a major artery or broke any bones. As the bear did its damage, Dunn had the thought to play dead, which wasn't all that hard to do since he nearly was dead. That thought likely saved him. The grizzly eventually was distracted by something else in the forest and waddled off into the trees, leaving its motionless prey on the trail praying for a way out of the predicament.
Dunn gathered what was left of his bitten, shredded body and limped, trailing blood, for a little more than a half-mile before he collapsed in a heap at a clearing, readying himself to die. Shortly thereafter, three photographers, two women and a man, stumbled upon him. One ran for a ranger station while the others urged the bear snack to keep breathing.
Not only did he do that, after three surgeries, 300 stitches and three months of active recovery, the only human on record up to that point to have been attacked by a grizzly in Grand Teton National Park relearned to walk and then relearned to run. Over time, he started running marathons again. He's subsequently run 30 of them, including twice in Boston.
And then, while training for the 2010 Ironman competition in St. George an event with a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike course, and a 26.2-mile marathon Dunn faced another setback. Seven weeks before the event, he was hit by a car while cycling in Salt Lake County, suffering a broken collarbone. He had broken the same collarbone a year earlier while on a run when a dog attacked him.
Still, after having a titanium rod screwed into the bone, he was able to finish the St. George Ironman, despite not training over those final weeks.
Now, Dunn, who recently announced his coming resignation as general manger of public television's KUED, has another dream: October's Kona Ironman in Hawaii. It's the momma's breast of endurance events, a revered test that draws a limited number of athletes of various age groups from around the globe. At 55, he's not fast enough to qualify on time alone. But the event sponsors an annual "Anything Is Possible" contest for competitors with inspiring stories who want to get in. Each candidate produces a video telling his or her personal tale and the Ironman posts the videos on its website, where readers can vote for their favorite. Fifty percent of the entry is determined by vote, 30 percent is based on how well the story fits the theme, and 20 percent is based on creativity and other merits. Visitors can vote over the first phase at the site KonaInspired.com until May 31.
Eight athletes will be selected.
"I'm a middle-aged, middle-of-the-pack competitor," says Dunn, still sitting under the large photo of the grizzly. "I'm just chasing dreams."
Vote for Utah's dream-chaser if you'd like, if nothing else, for his drive, for his determination, for his resilience. And hope against hope there are no great whites swimming nearby in the Pacific off the Big Island in October.
Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM, 1280 AM and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.