Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Iditarod Drama!

Crash ends Iditarod dream for ailing rookie

Pat Moon

Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News

Pat Moon

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Ulcerative colitis, a disease that targets the intestines and kidneys, was diagnosed nine years ago, but that couldn't stop rookie Chicago musher Pat Moon from chasing his dream to run the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Nor could non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, diagnosed 13 months ago.

But shortly after noon on Tuesday, a tree in the notoriously steep and twisty Dalzell Gorge knocked Moon unconscious -- and out of the race that had become the passion of his life.

Moon was about a third of the way down the gorge, according to race marshal Mark Nordman, when the collision took place.

"When I talked to Pat," Nordman said, "he said it was in an area where he was surprised it happened. It was just like, 'Wham!' He doesn't remember hitting a tree per se."

The collision knocked Moon out. Moments later, young Belgian musher Sam Deltour, who finished 11th in last month's Yukon Quest, came upon the wreck.

He first made sure Moon was still breathing and then checked the Chicago musher's dogs. By the time Deltour got back to Moon, the musher had regained consciousness.

"He skinned his face up a bit" but otherwise wasn't hurt beyond the knock to his head, Nordman said

An Iditarod race judge helped Moon, 33, to the Rohn checkpoint. From there, he was flown out to Lake Hood and taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center, where he was listed in good condition Tuesday night.

His 15 dogs were not injured and were also flown out.


Eventually, Deltour continued racing. He reached the Rohn checkpoint at 3:24 p.m.

The Dalzell Gorge comes after mushers have reached the highest point on the trail, 3,160-foot Rainy Pass, and are descending toward Rohn.

In two miles, the trail drops hundreds of feet as it zips back and forth across Dalzell Creek on narrow ice and snow bridges that span open but shallow running water.

Four years ago, Moon was an Idit-A-Rider, riding through Anchorage with another musher on the race's ceremonial start, and the 11-mile trip in a sled basket to Anchorage's Far North Bicentennial Park convinced the Chicago man he had to run this race, a decision he quickly announced to his wife Melanie.

Before long, Moon was training with Iditarod veteran Ed Stielstra of McMillian, Mich. Just getting there was an eight-hour drive from Chicago.

"I have to change the way I look at not only what I am doing, but how I do it while still remembering why I am doing it," he said in a story posted on the race's Web site.

"Most importantly, I have to remember that I elected to do this. This was my choice, and therefore, no matter what the situation, I need to smile and stay upbeat. The dogs always are, so why shouldn't I be?"

That attitude may be tested in the days ahead.

The injury will prevent Moon from visiting the villages along the Iditarod Trail, something he was anticipating.

In that same story on the Iditarod's Web site, Moon, in an almost-spooky harbinger, said: "When (veteran mushers) see a particular tree, to them it may indicate 'Lean to the left in 50 feet.' To me, I am most likely just going to think, 'What a neat tree!' "

Moon still hopes to encourage others with health challenges to chase their dreams.

"I'm hoping that one ill child out there thinks that if I can run the Iditarod, then maybe they can play dodge ball in gym class," he told the Iditarod.

Four other mushers ended their bid to finish the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday.

• Michael Suprenant, 45, of Chugiak, scratched for medical reasons in Rainy Pass with all 16 of his dogs still in harness, according to an Iditarod press release. Suprenant finished 49th last year.

• Zoya DeNure, who was nursing her 7-month-old daughter Jona until the race began, developed an infection of the tissue called mastitis that spread to her left arm, according to husband John Schandelmeier, and needed antibiotics.

DeNure, 33, of Paxson, had 15 dogs still in her team when she scratched. She and Schandelmeier operate a rescue kennel for unwanted sled dogs. DeNure was 53rd as a rookie musher in 2008.

• Karin Hendrickson, 39, of Chugiak, scratched in Rainy Pass when one of her sled runners broke, according to husband and fellow musher Varan Hoyt. All 16 of the dogs that started the race with Hendrickson, who finished 40th in her rookie race last year, were still in her team.

• Kirk Barnum, 41, of Seeley Lake, Mont., was down to 12 dogs when he scratched at Rainy Pass. Barnum, 41, who finished 67th as a rookie two years ago, said that his dogs were tired and scratched to protect them.

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