ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Lance Mackey, a colorful musher who was a four-time winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, died Wednesday. He was 52.
Mackey died from cancer, his father and kennel announced on Facebook.
Mackey was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2001 but overcame it after undergoing surgery and radiation therapy, KTUU-TV reported. He announced that he had cancer again in August 2021, according to the television station.
“Lance embodied the spirit of the race, the tenacity of an Alaskan musher, displayed the ultimate show of perseverance and was loved by his fans,” Iditarod officials said in a statement.
Mackey won the Iditarod four straight years from 2007 to 2010, according to The Associated Press. The famous mushing race was in his blood, as his father, Dick Mackey, won the 1978 race and his brother, Rick Mackey, won the event in 1983, according to the news outlet.
Iditarod officials also posted a tribute to Mackey in an Instagram post that included a collage of photos of the musher.
“We at Iditarod Nation are mourning the loss of 4-time Iditarod Champion, Lance Mackey. Lance passed away late in the evening of September 7, 2022, after a 20+ year battle of cancer,” the post read.
In 2008, Jeff King finished second behind Lance Mackey after a late-race deception that became Iditarod legend.
They were the first two racers to arrive in Elim, less than 125 miles from the finish line in Nome, the Anchorage Daily News reported. When Mackey began preparing his dog team to take a rest, King did the same.
The ruse worked. After King fell asleep, Mackey sneaked out and built the lead he needed to win his second straight title, according to the newspaper.
“He got me hook, line and sinker,” King recalled. “He took (the dogs’) booties off and put out straw, all the signs of somebody who is going to park the dogs for a while. He gambled that I’d doze off feeling safe.”
When Mackey wrote a book several years later, King’s signed copy included a personalized inscription that read, “If you snooze, you lose,” the Daily News reported.
In 2007, Mackey became the only musher to win both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in the same year, according to Alaska Public Media.
Mackey later had personal problems, health scares and drug issues that curtailed his career, the AP reported.
He later was diagnosed with Raynaud’s syndrome, which limits circulation to the hands and feet, the news outlet reported.
Mackey started 16 Iditarods beginning in 2001 and finished in the top 10 in 2005 and 2006 before reeling off four straight wins. Mackey’s last Iditarod start was in 2020, according to Alaska Public Media. After publicly discussing using marijuana on the trail to alleviate his pain, he was disqualified from that race due to a positive test for methamphetamines, the news outlet reported.
He entered substance abuse treatment after his disqualification.
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