Minneapolis Star Tribune Article 11-15-11

Put your best foot (and paw) forward

  • Article by: CHERI MOON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 15, 2011 – 10:14 AM

If you want to show your support for a charity, here’s one unusual (but effective) way to do it.

It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It always is at the beginning of a race. Some participants laugh, casually preparing their teams. Others lie in their sleds, waiting.

My feather boa pales in comparison to the inventive costumes that pepper the snow-covered Gunflint Lake with pink. One creative soul is sporting butterfly wings, another is wearing an enormous, fuchsia-colored Marge Simpson wig. The grin on my face splits into laughter as “Captain Mammogram” drives by on a pink snowmobile enhanced with fake breasts.

Each winter, volunteers, mushers and their dogs — decked in pink paraphernalia — converge on Gunflint Lake in Grand Marais, Minn., to participate in Mush for a Cure. Touted as a “FUNdraiser”, the event is a non-competitive sled dog run that donates its proceeds to institutions working to find a cure for breast cancer.

Mush for a Cure combines good humor, the Minnesota wilderness and dog sledding to support an important cause. For these reasons and more, my personal stance in the fight against breast cancer is from the back of a dog sled.

Mary Black, former proprietor of Black Magic Kennels, along with Sue Prom, owner of Voyageur Canoe Outfitters and founder of Pink Paddles, pioneered Mush for a Cure in 2007.

Prom started Pink Paddles in 2005 to raise money for breast cancer prevention. A year later, she and Black partnered to establish the pledge-based dogsled run.

“After two fellow dog mushers were diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to do something to help make a difference,” said Black.

In March 2007, four women participated in the inaugural Mush for a Cure, raising $2,500. By 2010 the event had grown to 52 participants and raised more than $23,000.

To date, Mush for a Cure has donated over $100,000 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation and attracts professional and recreational mushers from throughout the Midwest and Canada.

The event has what’s called a “sourdough start”, which means mushers are in their sleeping bags with their boots off. When the start gun blasts, we pull on our boots, hitch up our teams and head down the trail.

The roughly four-hour run weaves through the Minnesota wilderness and ends at the Trail Center Lodge, where the celebration and awards ceremony culminate with the Bald, Brave and Beautiful head-shaving event. Along the way, volunteers and spectators cheer mushers and their teams, pink costumes flapping in the wind while the dogs pant in their pink tutus.

Although the event is characterized by humor, many of the participants are there to honor those who have lost the battle against breast cancer — and those who have beaten it, or are still fighting it.

The 2009 event honoree was Shelly Stetson, who lost a four-year battle with breast cancer at the age of 41. She and her husband John trained their sled dogs in Churchill, Manitoba, where polar bear encounters weren’t uncommon. By all accounts, she was one tough lady. “She wielded a shotgun like a state trooper — with a baby on her back,” said John.

If breast cancer can beat a woman like that, it can defeat anyone — and that’s why we mush for a cure.

Cheri Moon is a freelance writer in Northfield, Minn.

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