• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 3s

Despite hardships, Mackey mushes on

By Emily Carlson 10:15 PM February 25, 2014

Confronted with cancer and costly medical bills, the four-time Iditarod winner presses on with help from friends and fans

ANCHORAGE – Four-time Iditarod champ Lance Mackey has nerves of steel and endless determination.

But his struggle to stay healthy and involved in sled dog racing nearly killed him.

It’s not every day the loudest and most enthusiastic cheers of the race go to the musher in last place. Then again, it’s not every day you see Lance Mackey cruising down Fourth Avenue in Downtown Anchorage for the Fur Rondy World Championship Sled Dog Races.

Everywhere Mackey goes, his adoring fans follow. One woman came all the way from England to see him race.

But Mackey wasn’t supposed to race at Fur Rondy. He’s in rough shape.

“I have a main artery in my neck that sticks out that’s very vulnerable,” Mackey says. “I can only lift my arm [shoulder] high and I have limited mobility. I have no saliva glands; I’m kind of a wreck.”

In October, Mackey’s teeth became infected. But every dentist he visited in Alaska refused to operate on him.

Frustrated, Mackey went to Mexico for treatment.

“All those teeth became infected and unbeknownst to me it was becoming life threatening so to speak.”

Mackey talks with his lips closed and refuses to smile for pictures with fans. It’s because he had all of his teeth removed.

It’s just the latest blip in a long battle for his health. In the 2001 Iditarod, Mackey raced with what he thought was an abscessed tooth. Turns out, it was cancer.

“I was told I’d never race dogs again, that I wasn’t going to live through this whole ordeal in the first place,” he said. “I’m pretty proud of the things I’ve accomplished for not being able to live.”

Mackey came back with a vengeance. He won the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest in the same year. Then he won both those races three more times.

He’s the most decorated and successful musher Alaska has ever seen. But for all his fame and fortune, Mackey is broke. In fact, he’s more than just broke; he’s up to ears in debt.

“I had almost $700,000 worth of medical bills and no insurance,” he said.

All of Mackey’s $400,000 prize money went to pay his bills. Discouraged, Mackey wondered if he picked the right profession.

“What? How could Lance Mackey even think for a moment that he’s in the wrong profession?” asked Kirsten Ballard.

The thought of Mackey doing anything but mushing angers Ballard. As a fellow musher and dog lover, she knows how talented Mackey is. Now, she’s rallying other Alaskans to help out.

“He’s our son of Alaska, he’s a great athlete, a great champion and he needed some help, so I decided to give him some help.”

So far, the fundraising site Ballard created has raised nearly $30,000.

Mackey says he’s embarrassed by all the generosity, mostly from total strangers.

“I’m just a poor white boy living in a hill in a shack in Fairbanks, Alaska with my 60 closest friends,” Mackey says.

Love for his dogs, love for his sport and love for the life he says was saved by both.

Every time he crosses the finish line, Mackey says he feels like he’s won the real race. The race for a life that’s cancer free.

Mackey says he’ll retire when he wins the Iditarod with 15 dogs, a feat that has never been accomplished before. If you’d like to meet Mackey, there will be a fundraiser on Friday night at the Down East Saloon in Homer.

Latest Stories

  • Bloomberg to world leaders: Ignore Trump on climate

    by Associated Press on Apr 23, 17:36

    NEW YORK (AP) – New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg says he wants to help save an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions. The former New York City mayor addressed his intensifying focus on climate change an interview with The Associated Press. Last week, he released a new book, “Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and […]

  • Sports

    BLM seeks public input on proposed Red Devil Mine cleanup

    by KTVA Web Staff on Apr 23, 17:17

    The Red Devil Mine is located on the Kuskokwim near the Red Devil Creek between Crooked Creek and Sleetmute. It started mining in the ’30s, picked up steam in the ’50s and ’60s but has not operated since the 1970s. The problem is that there’s mercury, arsenic and antimony in the soils left behind by […]

  • Students sue Trump administration over climate change

    by CBS News on Apr 23, 17:07

    EUGENE, Ore. — Avery McRae has been passionate about the environment for half a lifetime, and she’s been worried about climate change since kindergarten. Now, at 11, she is really getting serious. She recently signed on to sue President Trump and the U.S. government. “Trump is not doing anything to help stop climate change,” she […]

  • News

    Water streaming across Antarctica surprises, worries scientists

    by CBS News on Apr 23, 16:45

    In a unique study spanning the entire continent, scientists have found that water is gushing across Antarctica — more than they ever realized. The researchers from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have found significant drainage of meltwater flowing across the continent’s ice sheets during summer in Antarctica. Until now, these streams of water were mainly […]

  • APD makes 1 arrest in Carrs-Safeway shooting

    by KTVA Web Staff on Apr 23, 15:46

    Anchorage Police say they have at least one of the persons responsible for a shooting inside a grocery store over the weekend in custody. Anchorage Police Lieutenant John McKinnon says 18-year-old Devon Maurice Brown has been arrested in connection to the trashing of the Carrs-Safeway on Northern Lights Boulevard, as well as the shooting of one […]

  • News

    Fire damages Sand Lake duplex

    by KTVA Web Staff on Apr 23, 14:55

    Crews were dispatched to a house fire early Sunday afternoon in Sand Lake. Just after noon, 13 Anchorage Fire units were called to a duplex in the 7800 block of Fenn Street. Homeowner told me everyone got out of the building OK. She does not know what caused the fire. @ktva pic.twitter.com/9SfbGD1aCA — Eric Ruble […]

  • Girl, 4, missing from Palmer area for a month

    by KTVA Web Staff on Apr 23, 14:45

    Alaska State Troopers are asking for the public’s help in locating a 4-year-old girl who’s believed to have been taken by her father. Troopers in Palmer says 4-year-old Charlie hasn’t been seen since March 21, and the girl was with her father, 57-year-old Raymond Martin, of Wasilla. Authorities say Martin failed to relinquish custody of […]

  • News

    North Korea detains third U.S. citizen

    by CBS News/Associated Press on Apr 23, 12:55

    PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea has detained a U.S. citizen, officials said Sunday, bringing the number of Americans being held there to three. Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk, was detained on Saturday, according to Park Chan-mo, the chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. Park said […]