• 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

  • Lifestyle

    Film festival kicks off with premier of last movie shot under tax incentive program

    by Bonney Bowman on Dec 03, 17:39

    The Anchorage International Film Festival kicked off Friday night, with the premier of a movie shot right here in our home state. “Sugar Mountain” was the last film made under the tax incentive program, which the state ended due to budget issues. “Sugar Mountain” was shot in Seward, and featured the town and its people. […]

  • Politics

    Green Party drops bid for statewide Pennsylvania recount

    by Associated Press on Dec 03, 17:29

    The Green Party is dropping its court case seeking a statewide recount of Pennsylvania’s Nov. 8 presidential election. It had wanted to explore whether voting machines and systems had been hacked and the election result manipulated. The decision came Saturday, two days before a court hearing in the case. Lawyers for the Green Party-backed voters […]

  • News

    Scholar says China concerned about Trump policy following Taiwan call

    by Associated Press on Dec 03, 17:28

    China’s foreign minister says he hopes Beijing’s relations with the U.S. won’t be “interfered with or damaged” after President-elect Donald Trump broke with decades-long diplomatic tradition and spoke directly with Taiwan’s leader. Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV reports that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday the call between Taiwan’s president and Trump was “just a […]

  • News

    Bergdahl seeks pardon from Obama to avert desertion trial

    by Associated Press on Dec 03, 17:22

    A former prisoner of war accused of endangering his U.S. comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan is asking President Barack Obama to pardon him before leaving office. White House and Justice Department officials say U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl submitted the clemency request. If granted, it would allow Bergdahl to avert a court-martial […]

  • News

    Officials say up to 40 people may have perished in California warehouse fire

    by KTVA / AP on Dec 03, 15:41

    31st- pic.twitter.com/8TX6jk0iYq — Oakland Firefighters (@OaklandFireLive) December 3, 2016 OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Authorities say they fear up to 40 people might have died in a fire at an Oakland, California warehouse, which was hosting an electronic dance party. Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said Saturday that nine people were confirmed dead, and that he […]

  • News

    Bethel fire investigation reveals 2 bodies, police say

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Dec 03, 14:42

    Last updated at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3 Two Bethel residents were found dead inside their home after a fire early Saturday morning. Bethel police and fire personnel responded to the fire in the area of Trailer Court just after 1 a.m. and quickly extinguished it, according to a statement from Bethel Police Department […]

  • Weather

    Sitka airport closed after storm forced rocks, debris onto runway

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Dec 03, 14:13

    The Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport was closed for several hours Friday when a storm forced rocks and other debris onto the runway. High winds and heavy seas were blamed for the debris, which stretched across the runway for much of the day, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. “The airport is […]

  • Lifestyle

    A night at the Bethel Winter House

    by Adrian Wagner/KYUK on Dec 03, 13:47

    Bethel’s homeless shelter, Bethel Winter House, opened earlier this week, providing relief from the cold to Bethel’s many in need. A story published by KYUK Public Media showed what it was like for guests on Wednesday night. Around dinnertime, Major Lonnie Upshaw checked a large convection oven. “I’m serving lasagna, and chicken alfredo pasta with rolls tonight,” Upshaw said. […]