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An iron-man musher with a kennel of wonderdogs, Lance Mackey has dominated long distance sled-dog racing like nobody in the history of the sport. A throat cancer survivor who started his career in Kasilof on the Kenai Peninsula and later moved north of Fairbanks, Mackey in 2007 accomplished what most people thought was impossible when he won both the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Just to show it wasn’t a fluke, he went out and accomplished the same feat in 2008. In 2009, he skipped the Quest – giving someone else a chance to win the race he owned for four straight years — but won his third consecutive Iditarod.
In the year of Mackey’s first double victory, eight dogs ran the distance in both races — an incredible 2,100 miles in less than 40 days. At the Iditarod finish line in Nome , their tails wagged as their master basked in the spotlight. The dogs came from Mackey’s aptly named Come Back Kennel. Just as Mackey defied conventional wisdom that said a musher couldn’t win the Iditarod and the Quest in the same year, he defied medical experts who suspected cancer would end his career.
During the 2001 Iditarod, Mackey discovered a lump in his neck and was later diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. He was still undergoing treatment when he entered the 2002 race with a tube in his stomach and a team sponsored by doctors who were amazed by his resiliency and toughness. Three years later he bagged his first Quest win.
In 2006, he won his second Quest and placed 10th in the Iditarod – minus his left index finger. Nerve damage from the cancer had made the finger useless and painful, so he persuaded doctors to amputate. “I gotta keep doing what I love, even if it means sacrificing
a digit to do it,” he said.
A living legend from a legendary mushing family – dad Dick was one
of the Iditarod founders and won the 1978 race and half-brother Rick won the 1983 Iditarod – Lance Mackey beat all kinds of odds to become the greatest long distance sled-dog driver the sport has ever seen.
– Bob Eley and Beth Bragg
photo courtesy of Jeff Schultz/AlaskaStock.com
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