Mackey Talks Post-Victory

I finally tracked down Lance Mackey on his cell phone in Nome Tuesday six days after he cruised to a third consecutive Iditarod win. I could hear his wife, Tonga, busy in the background trying to book a flight as the couple had been unable to get out of Nome by air. Many flights around the state were cancelled due to the eruptions of Mount Redoubt.

In what he characterized as a “brutal” race due to cold and wind, Mackey told me he felt he seized control of the 1,100-mile journey from Anchorage to Nome out of the checkpoint of Takotna, roughly halfway through the course. A week later, he was still emotional about his win. “Aw man, I couldn’t be more pleased,” he said. “It’s still a pretty unbelievable feeling. I'm very impressed with my dog team and their accomplishment.”

Mackey heaped praise on his group of hounds, which, by Iditarod standards, was relatively young. Only 9-year-old lead dog Larry – the oldest in his winning team -- is definitely putting his harness up for good. That should strike fear into his opponents. Despite a couple females in heat and a race marked by severe weather, Mackey rode to the easiest of his three wins, finishing 8 hours ahead of runner-up Sebastian Schnuelle. His victory was in stark contrast to last year when he out dueled Jeff King in the home stretch. “It definitely wasn’t easy,” he said in his trademark gravelly voice. “The easier part for me was a dog team that was virtually flawless. I got 15 dogs to Nome – that tells you the minimal issues I had.” 

Indeed, the 38-year-old Fairbanks resident was the only musher in the top-10 to drop just one dog, earning him the coveted humanitarian award. The award is voted on by vets along the Iditarod and is given to the musher who demonstrates outstanding dog care throughout the race. Mackey said he was “a little teary” when he accepted the award, which only two other Iditarod champions have captured the same year they won the race (Martin Buser and Libby Riddles). Mackey said winning the award was “icing on the cake” to go with his $69,000 winner’s prize and new Ford truck (he has yet to decide what model or color he wants). ”It shows that everyone took notice that I took good care of my dogs,” he said proudly.

Mackey’s win solidifies his place as a musher for the ages. As he rightly pointed out, he has now triumphed in seven of the last 1,000-mile races he’s contested, which includes three Iditarod victories from 2007-09 and four Yukon Quests from 2005-08. It’s a resume anyone will have a tough time surpassing. “That’s pretty damn impressive, even to me,” he said.

On a related topic, see this story in USA Today on research with sled dogs in the battle against type 2 diabetes.


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