ANCHORAGE, AK – Lance Mackey, one of mushing’s most colorful and successful champions who also suffered from drug and health problems, has died.
The four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winner died Wednesday of cancer, his father and his kennel announced on Facebook. He was 52 years old.
Officials from the world’s most famous dog sled race said the Iditarod Nation was in mourning.
“Lance embodied the spirit of the race, the tenacity of an Alaskan musher, displayed the ultimate display of perseverance and was loved by his fans,” officials said in a statement.
The son of 1978 Iditarod champion Dick Mackey and brother of 1983 champion Rick Mackey, Lance Mackey overcame throat cancer in 2001 to win an unprecedented four straight Iditarod championships from 2007 to 2010.
It wasn’t just the 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometre) race across Alaska that stood out. During his Iditarod run, he also twice won the 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) Yukon Quest international sled dog race between Canada and Alaska with just two weeks off between races.
But after the series of victories, he was plagued by personal problems, health problems and drug problems that prevented him from reaching the top of the sport.
Treatment for his throat cancer cost him his salivary glands and ultimately disintegrated his teeth.
He was then diagnosed with Raynaud’s syndrome, which limits circulation to the hands and feet and is aggravated by the cold weather every musher must contend with in the Alaskan wilderness.
In the 2015 race, he was unable to manipulate his fingers to perform simple tasks, such as putting booties on his dogs’ paws to protect them from snow, ice and cold. His brother and fellow competitor Jason Mackey agreed to stay with him at the back of the pack to help him look after the dogs.
It was a life changing blow for Lance Mackey, who knew no other way of life.
“I love this sport,” he told an Iditarod TV crew during that race as he fought back tears. “I can not do it anymore”.
Documentary filmmaker Greg Kohs spent two weeks with Mackey during the 2013 Iditarod, filming “The Great Alone.” He was waiting in the small, remote town of Takotna for Mackey to arrive, and he was encouraged to go there because the town’s residents make amazing cakes to serve to the mushers as they pass through the race checkpoint.
“I realized that Lance Mackey was very much like a piece of cake. Once you got a taste of his story and personality, you wanted to share it with others,” he said in a statement issued after learning of Mackey’s death.
“And like a homemade cake, the tin is often dented and the crust may not look perfect, but inside is a delicious recipe enriched by time, wisdom and soul,” Kohs wrote.
Whether he was winning or losing, or talking about problems, Mackey was always transparent.
“That honesty is what allowed him to not be afraid,” five-time champion Dallas Seavey told The Associated Press on Thursday. “He didn’t have to see himself in a different light than he really was.”
Seavey said Mackey gave it his all, racing to the limit.
“If it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out, and that was fine with him,” Seavey said. “It made him a great competitor.”
Another musher, four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King, called Mackey a fabulous competitor.
“He will be missed and always remembered as a great dog man,” King said.
After his string of first-place finishes, Mackey slipped back down the standings, finishing a career-worst 43rd in 2015. The following year, he scratched and didn’t race the Iditarod again until 2019, when he placed 26th.
In the 2020 race, his last, he carried his mother’s ashes on his sled to the finish line in Nome to honor her, but was later disqualified after testing positive for methamphetamine. He checked into rehab on the East Coast.
Before the Iditarod began drug testing in 2010, Mackey also acknowledged using marijuana on the road.
Months after finishing the 2020 race, his partner Jenne Smith was killed in an ATV accident. They had two children.
Last month, he told the Iditarod website that an exam after a car accident found more cancer and he thought treatment had fixed it. “But some other issues came up that haven’t gone away and they seem to have moved quickly and left me in the position I’m in right now,” she said, noting that she was on oxygen and had lost 30 pounds.
When asked if he was scared, Mackey replied, “I’m not scared of anything. You know, it is what it is, but I’m no different than the rest of the people on the planet. When it’s my bus stop, I’ll get off.”
He also took the opportunity to apologize to his fans for his past problems.
“I am still, like never before, embarrassed and disappointed,” he said after his disqualification.
He said he knew he had lost fans and was not looking to change their opinion of him.
“I’m really sorry for the many embarrassing moments, but I’m also thankful for the support I also received from many of the same people,” he said.
DeeDee Jonrowe, a retired musher who had known Lance since he was a junior musher, underwent cancer treatments around the same time as Mackey.
“I admire him for what he fought for, but I’m very sad that he couldn’t survive the dysfunction of it all,” he said, noting the loss of mother, partner and substance abuse, which didn’t help. to cancer treatments.
“He’s a legend,” Jonrowe said. “But I don’t think he wanted anyone to follow in his lifestyle footsteps. He would want them to learn from the blunders that he made.”
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