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Beargrease musher returns after cancer diagnosis

Christine Richardson isn't a stranger to sled dog racing, but after battling breast cancer for more than a year, returning to the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race has taken on a new meaning for her.

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(Left) John Beargrease mid-distance racer Christine Richardson harnesses one of her dogs Sunday. (Right) John Beargrease mid-distance racer Christine Richardson begins the race. (Photos by Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Christine Richardson isn't a stranger to sled dog racing, but after battling breast cancer for more than a year, returning to the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race has taken on a new meaning for her.

"It's kind of like a turning point, getting back into life," she said.

Richardson, of Canaan, N.H., raced in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Mid-Distance Race this year. She previously raced in the Beargrease marathon in 2009, as well as the UP200 and Can-Am sled dog races.

"It feels like more of a challenge to do (the mid-distance) because of the last year. But we're excited. We have the happiest crew, the happiest dog team. We're not going to do anything stressed out, we're just going to go with the flow," she said before the start of the Beargrease.

She went through 18 months of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to treat the breast cancer. Going through treatment "knocked me right off" from being able to compete in long-distance sled dog races. She had to scale down and was able to do two 30-mile races last winter with a lot of assistance, she said, adding, "It's just a real struggle."

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She began getting her energy back last summer and then she finished treatment in November. She also has a reliable dog team, as well as a friend in Grand Marais and a dog handler in Minneapolis to help, she said.

"I've been able to train a lot this fall so I felt like it might be good to enter the Beargrease and see what I can do. It was a big journeying challenge to drive out here by myself and do this whole thing," she said.

After surviving breast cancer, she said she's a different person and mushing is a different experience for her now.

"I get anxious at the beginning of the races, but the winning part is not as important as participating. Being able to do this is such a gift, because last year, I could barely stand up some days. The fact that I can do this now, it's a lot more meaningful. I'm just grateful that I can do it. I'm just going to enjoy what I can do and enjoy watching people in the (Beargrease) marathon," she said.

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