By now, you may have heard the heartwarming tale of Indy, a Minnesota “superstar” sled dog with no sight and a heart of gold.
Indy had a rare condition where the lenses of his eyes would rove about randomly, causing damage as they went. The Alaskan husky had first one, then the other eye removed, and for a while, it wasn’t certain if he would race again.
After a few years of recovery, Indy is back with the team, and he just completed the 100-mile Gunflint Mail Run in Cook County, his first major race since losing his eyes. In a few weeks, he’ll be attempting the 300-mile Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon up the North Shore.
It’s a great story on its own, but there’s an equally determined human in the background: Frank Moe of Hovland, Minnesota.
In his middle age, Moe has already led what can best be described as an eclectic life. He says he and his brother grew up in Bloomington with a single mom who made a living as a bartender. She always told Moe to do what made him happy.
That meant dogs. Before he got into sled dog racing in the late ’90s, he used to let his husky-lab and German shepherd mix pull him around Lake Nokomis on rollerblades. After getting a few concussions, he figured out snow might be a more forgiving medium and tried skijoring for the first time.
Two dogs became six, the skis became a sled, and he started competing in races.
Then, in 2002, DFL U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash. Moe admired Wellstone, a former college professor of his and the only U.S. senator up for re-election who had voted against the Iraq War. It was Wellstone's death that inspired Moe to go into politics.
He kicked off his campaign to join the Minnesota Legislature by traveling around his northern district in his dog sled. With the help of “a lot of great people” in Bemidji and Beltrami Counties, he beat Doug Fuller, a three-term Republican incumbent who “needed to go back to real estate,” Moe says. Moe served two terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives, largely championing conservation efforts, before opting not to run for re-election.
By 2012, he’d switched gears and become a board member of Conservation Minnesota. He slid back to the Capitol after eight days of mushing from Grand Marais to St. Paul, all in order to deliver 13,000 signatures regarding sulfide mining in northern Minnesota. From 2015 to 2016, he served as a Cook County commissioner, then resigned abruptly to look after his health.
These days, his attempts to protect Minnesota’s natural landscape are more in a citizen’s capacity. He writes and calls his representatives. He’s “cautiously optimistic” about attempts to stop incoming copper nickel mines from digging up the earth near the Boundary Waters in Ely.
“These mines aren’t going to happen,” he says. “Even if PolyMet and Twin Metals are trying to convince Minnesotans that this is a done deal, that’s bullshit.”
He’s also focusing more on his racing, having acquired more dogs and gotten more competitive over the years. But even in that arena, the public service bug hasn’t stopped biting him.
During a 2018 race in Michigan, he stopped to help a competing musher who was kneeling next to one of her dogs. He wasn’t breathing, and she told Moe she was afraid he was going to die. Moe used his EMT training to give the dog a few rescue breaths, and the animal started coughing and popped back to life.
He remembers the feeling he got when that musher whisked past him later on, with the dog, alive and well, seated safely in her sled. He and the animal made eye contact as they passed.
Asked why he lives the way he lives, or for advice on how to do the same, Moe gets quiet. He’s a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. His dogs, “as much as anything,” have helped him stay sober for 26 years.
“I think about every single one of those dogs and how beautiful and lovely they are,” he says. “They give everything to us. Everything. We’re all they have.”
So, every morning, he wakes up and thanks God for his sobriety. He counts everything after that as “a bonus.” He feeds his dogs. He helps in whatever way he can. He screws up—just ask his wife, Sherri, he says. But he tries to be a better man than he was yesterday. A man good enough to be loved by dogs like Indy.
“Take the opportunity to be the best person you can,” Moe says.