4-Time Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey Dies at Age 52

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IISeptember 8, 2022

ANCHORAGE, AK - FEBRUARY 28: Lance Mackey (Fairbanks, AK) drives his team in the Open World Championship Sled Dog Races during the Fur Rendezvous on February 28, 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Lance King/Getty Images

Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey died of cancer at the age of 52 on Wednesday.

A statement announcing his passing was made on Lance Mackey's Comeback Kennel Facebook page.

Mackey was the only musher to ever win the Iditarod and the Yukon Gold Quest in the same year, and he did it twice (2007, 2008). He pulled off four-peats in both events, winning the Yukon Gold Quest from 2005-08 and the Iditarod from 2007-10. Brad Joyal of the Associated Press called him the "Michael Jordan of mushing."

Mackey's career and life accomplishments go far beyond that stretch though. Simply put, his resilience in the face of significant adversity was nothing short of inspiring.

The Alaska Sports Hall of Famer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2001 after discovering a lump in his neck. One year later, he was running the Iditarod with a tube in his stomach, per Bob Eley and Beth Bragg for the Hall of Fame website.

A few years later, doctors amputated his left index finger because of nerve damage from the cancer. That didn't stop him from engineering the greatest run in the sport's history in the mid-to-late 2000s.

The feat is even more remarkable when considering that Mackey won both iconic races two years running despite the need to go 2,000 miles total in a span of fewer than 40 days.

According to Zaz Hollander and Zachariah Hughes of the Anchorage Daily News, Mackey also lost most of his teeth in 2014 because of radiation treatments.

He also had Raynaud’s disease which "causes some areas of your body—such as your fingers and toes—to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress," per the Mayo Clinic.

Mackey was diagnosed with throat cancer again in Aug. 2021.

On Aug. 5, 2022, Mackey announced on his Facebook page that those original tumors were successfully treated.

However, he revealed that the cancer had returned. Mackey noted that "the past several months have been the hardest/worst part" and that he had "been in a hospital with 24-hour care." TMZ Sports noted that he had been in and out of a hospital since late June.

Kind words and remembrances poured in on his Facebook page and throughout numerous obituaries published after news of his death broke. Jack Barnwell of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner opened his piece on Mackey by succinctly describing the legend as follows:

"Mushing champion Lance Mackey was symbolic of the quintessential Alaskan—a scrappy spirit and weathered toughness that saw him through a long dog mushing career despite serious health challenges. His character earned him respect from an army of fans and fellow mushers."

A statement from the Iditarod Facebook page said that Mackey "embodied the Spirit of the Race, the tenacity of an Alaskan musher, displayed the ultimate show of perseverance and was loved by his fans."

Mackey is survived by two children with his partner, Jennifer Smith, who passed away in 2020.