I may be obsessed with Lance Mackey. Having won four Yukon Quests, and two back-to-back Quest and Iditarod races, he truly is a force to reckon with. Add to his athleticism a family history rooted in dog mushing and a personal saga peppered with conflict, he has a narrative worth knowing. He is a full-blown, three-dimensional Alaskan character.
During the 2010 race, despite a warrant for Mackey’s arrest, issued in the midst of the Quest for failure to appear in court after the seizure of his medical marijuana in the Anchorage airport, the musher still made it past the Canadian and U.S. borders. Even with the sheriffs on his trail. But he didn’t win the race. He came in second behind Hans Gatt. And I thought his stylish seal-skin hat would take him all the way. Mackey doesn’t shy away from publicly proclaiming his affinity for marijuana use while on the trail, either, and when Iditarod race officials announced that drug tests would be performed on mushers prior to the race, Mackey vocalized his disdain.
In 2001, Mackey was diagnosed with throat cancer, and at his first Quest race in 2002, he started with a feeding tube still in place in his stomach. He didn’t finish the race, but in 2005, when he came back rested and ready, he won as a rookie. Mackey, a true chevalier, gave full credit to his dogs.
Ever since, Mackey has traveled the road to success. He’s been twice nominated for an ESPY and is known to many (or at least to me) as the toughest athlete in the world. The Quest, a 1,000 mile sled dog race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon, during the harshest winter months, is not a trek for the faint of heart. Just standing at the starting line on the banks of the frozen Chena River was enough for me. It was damn cold. But well worth it. Mackey may be a controversial figure, but he is as iconic as they come–gritty and vociferous and hugely talented. His flaws, or quarks, or bouts of mishaps, are a reminder of what makes us human.