• 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

  • Crime

    Police-involved shooting ends in death of Barrow man

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Feb 10, 12:35

    A North Slope Borough police officer was involved in a shooting early Wednesday morning resulting in the death of a 36-year-old Barrow man. Just after 3:30 a.m., the officer responded to a call for assistance on the 7400 block of North Star Street in Barrow. While responding, a shooting occurred that resulted in the death […]

  • News

    Wrangell doctor sentenced in child pornography case

    by Associated Press on Feb 10, 10:27

    A Wrangell doctor convicted of receiving and distributing child pornography has been sentenced to 20 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release. The U.S. Department of Justice says 54-year-old Greg Alan Salard was sentenced Tuesday and fined $25,000 by U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess. Salard after a six-day trial in Juneau was convicted […]

  • News

    UPDATE: Mail carrier alerts homeowner to fire, calls 911

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Feb 10, 10:14

    Updated at 12:05 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10 An Anchorage mail carrier is to thank for calling 911 and alerting a homeowner to a fire Wednesday morning, potentially saving his life. Kermit Arroyo told KTVA that he heard three explosions and saw flames shooting from the residence. He called 911 and ran to the house […]

  • Politics

    Alaska Sen. Donald Olson switches sides, minority loses committee rights

    by Liz Raines on Feb 10, 9:30

    Democratic Sen. Donald Olson of Golovin is switching to the majority caucus, leaving the minority without a seat on the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Olson was the only Democrat serving on the Senate Finance Committee, the last stop for any budget bills this session. With his change in party, the committee now comprises majority members […]

  • Politics

    Anchorage Assembly sets rules for marijuana businesses

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Feb 10, 9:27

      ANCHORAGE — Anchorage Assembly members outlined a map of the proposed marijuana industry Tuesday evening, voting to keep marijuana businesses at least 500 feet away from schools and playgrounds. The Assembly previously proposed that pot retail stores would need to operate at least 1,000 feet from schools and playgrounds. By a 6-5 vote, Assembly members lessened […]

  • News

    Hollis man charged with driving through ferry security gate

    by Associated Press on Feb 10, 9:15

    A 35-year-old southeast Alaska man suspected of driving a van through a security gate at a ferry terminal was arrested Tuesday. Alaska State Troopers say Kenneth Burchfield of Hollis about 1 a.m. broke into a secured yard at the Inter-Island Ferry Authority in Hollis and stole an IFA passenger van. Troopers say he drove through […]

  • News

    Report: Trees in Kodiak borough parcel likely to die

    by Associated Press on Feb 10, 8:35

    An assessment into the damage from the August 2015 Twin Creeks fire on land owned by the Kodiak Island Borough has determined that many of the area’s trees will likely die. The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports that the borough hired Joe Stanley of Washington state-based NorthWind Forest Consultants to inspect the borough’s 800 acres of damaged […]

  • News

    Ahtna announces purchase of sand, gravel, asphalt company

    by Associated Press on Feb 10, 7:15

    An Alaska Native regional corporation says it has acquired a sand and gravel company in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Ahtna Inc. says it has purchased AAA Valley Gravel, LLC. Besides mining sand and gravel, the company has trucking and asphalt operations. Tom Maloney, chief executive officer of Ahtna’s business holding company, says in an announcement the […]