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updated: 4/15/2011 5:12 AM

Iditarod musher visits Elgin school

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  • Hera, the best dog on Pat Moon's dog sled team, was the center of attention Thursday as Moon talked about his experiences as a musher at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin.

      Hera, the best dog on Pat Moon's dog sled team, was the center of attention Thursday as Moon talked about his experiences as a musher at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Pat Moon of Park Ridge, a dog sled racer and cancer survivor, visited Creekside Elementary School in Elgin Thursday after students at the school wrote him get-well cards. He pulled out of the Iditarod last year after he hit a tree and broke several bones.

      Pat Moon of Park Ridge, a dog sled racer and cancer survivor, visited Creekside Elementary School in Elgin Thursday after students at the school wrote him get-well cards. He pulled out of the Iditarod last year after he hit a tree and broke several bones.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Musher and Chicago native Pat Moon spoke to students at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin Thursday about his experiences as a professional dog sled racer.

      Musher and Chicago native Pat Moon spoke to students at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin Thursday about his experiences as a professional dog sled racer.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Musher Pat Moon outfitted first-grade teacher Nancy Stade in the gear he wears during dog sled races during a presentation Thursday at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin.

      Musher Pat Moon outfitted first-grade teacher Nancy Stade in the gear he wears during dog sled races during a presentation Thursday at Creekside Elementary School in Elgin.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

Pat Moon grew up in Chicago. He lives in Park Ridge. Subzero winters and brutal snowstorms are nothing new to him.

Still, none of that could prepare him for the conditions he faces as a musher -- a professional dog sled racer.

When he races in Canada, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Alaska or Russia, temperatures can get down to nearly 80 degrees -- no, that's a not a misprint -- below zero.

Thursday, before a rapt crowd of students at Elgin's Creekside Elementary School, Moon described how he deals with extreme weather conditions -- even as he runs along his team of Alaskan Huskies for 14 days straight with perhaps 90 minutes of sleep a day.

Moon visited Creekside after receiving cards from Donna Yehl's fourth-grade class. Each year, Yehl teaches a unit on the Iditarod, the Kentucky Derby of dog sled races, held every March in Alaska.

Every year, Yehl's students pick a musher to follow during the grueling race. Last year, they picked Moon because he is an Illinois native.

Throughout the season, mushers enter races to qualify for the Iditarod -- much like runners trying to make the Boston Marathon. Moon was able to accomplish this even while battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer.

But not everyone finishes the Iditarod, and Moon was one of the unlucky ones last year. After hitting his head on a tree, breaking his nose, cheek bones and left hand, Moon was forced to pull out -- much to the disappointment of Yehl's students.

"I hit my head on a tree and I had no idea where I was," Moon said Thursday. "I said Chicago, Florida ... Alaska didn't even enter my mind."

After he recovered, Moon got right back in the sled, continuing to train during the off-season and entering races again late last year.

At Creekside Thursday, Moon showed off his best dog, Hera, a friendly, docile Alaskan Huskie who comes running as soon as she hears Moon's distinctive, high-pitched call. Hera bonded with the children at Creekside and met with a group of special-needs children when Moon's talk ended.

Creekside raised $750 to help Moon achieve his goal of returning to the Iditarod. It is a costly affair: Moon said it can cost up to $100,000 to prepare for the event.

In return, Creekside will get unfettered access to "The Iditarod Insider," a website where they can track mushers using GPS technology and view the latest news on the race.

Yehl said she hopes Moon can make a return visit.

"Out of all the years that I've taught, it was the first time I could make such a personal connection for the kids," Yehl said.

Her students agreed.

"I thought it was really cool and interesting," said Shane Dixon, a fourth-grader. "I learned about the Iditarod in class. It was cool to have someone who ran it tell us about it."

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