Lance Mackey was born to race in the Iditarod. His father is one of the official founders of the Iditarod Sled Dog Races that were revived in 1973. Dick Mackey joined forces with Dorothy Page, fondly called the mother of the Iditarod races, and Joe Redington Sr., named the father of the Iditarod races. It was a family tradition for Lance to race in the Iditarod. All of his siblings are involved in sled dog racing. Mackey’s oldest brother even won 3 Iditarod races.
Lance was well rehearsed in running the Iditarod, having competed in 4 Junior Iditarod races. In 2001, Lance Mackey competed for the first time in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. He didn’t know that bigger challenges were on the horizon. Shortly after the race, Mackey was diagnosed with throat cancer. His health caused a lot of problems for him. Lance survived surgery and radiation treatments.
Mackey’s spirit stayed strong, as he trained for the next Iditarod in 2002. Close to halfway through the race, at the Ophir checkpoint, he bowed out because of health problems. He was unable to race in 2003, as he gathered his strength in the battle against cancer. By 2004, Mackey was training to run in the Iditarod again. His dream of winning had yet to be fulfilled.
To prepare for the great race, Mackey competed in the Yukon, a long distance run held a short time prior to the Iditarod. He took 1st place four years in a row in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. He was more than ready to be declared champion in the Iditarod. Mackey had gone through so much. It was time to make his dream come true.
His first Iditarod victory came in 2007, a short time after winning the Yukon championship. He was the third Mackey family member to win the Iditarod. Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Lance Mackey became the first champion to win 2 Iditarod’s consecutively. To be correct, he was the first racer to win 2 Yukon’s and 2 Iditarod’s back to back.
Mackey beat the odds. He survived cancer. He proved to the world that cancer doesn’t prevent dreams from coming true, and he did it in style. His story has inspired many people, including sled dog racers. Lance is not the only one to face the devastating illness while racing in the Iditarod.
In 2007, DeeDee Jonrowe, another Iditarod runner and cancer survivor, competed in the race against Lance. Jonrowe and Susan Butcher, four time Iditarod champion, had been diagnosed with cancer within three months of each other. Butcher had died in August of 2006. Jonrowe and Mackey understood her battle. Dave Monson, Butcher’s husband, and his daughter drove dog teams on the trail in her memory that year.
Mackey’s Kennel is appropriately named, Lance Mackey’s Comeback Kennel. He is married to his high school sweetheart, and has 4 children. In January 2009, Mackey withdrew as a competitor in the Yukon Quest race. He wants to attend the Junior Iditarod this year, and watch his son in competition. He’s never had an opportunity before now, since he was competing in races at the same time. It’s time to pass the torch, as another Mackey prepares to leave his mark on the Iditarod.