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4-Time Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey Dies at Age 52

Lance King/Getty Images

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

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

Mackey was the only real musher to ever win the Iditarod and the Yukon Gold Quest in exactly the same year, and he achieved 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 “JORDAN of mushing.”

Mackey’s career and life accomplishments go far beyond that stretch though. To put it simply, his resilience when confronted with significant adversity was nothing lacking inspiring.

The Alaska Sports Hall of Famer was identified as having throat cancer in 2001 after discovering a lump in his neck. Twelve months 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 couple of years later, doctors amputated his left index finger due to nerve damage from the cancer. That didn’t stop him from engineering the best run in the sport’s history in the mid-to-late 2000s.

The feat is a lot more remarkable when contemplating that Mackey won both iconic races 2 yrs running regardless of the have to go 2,000 miles total in a span of less than 40 days.

In accordance with Zaz Hollander and Zachariah Hughes of the Anchorage Daily News, Mackey also lost the majority of his teeth in 2014 due to radiation treatments.

He also had Raynauds disease which “causes some regions of your bodysuch as your fingers and toesto feel numb and cold in reaction to winter or stress,” per the Mayo Clinic.

Mackey was identified as having 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 “days gone by several months have already been the hardest/worst part” and he had “experienced a hospital with 24-hour care.” TMZ Sports noted he have 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 the following:

“Mushing champion Lance Mackey was symbolic of the quintessential Alaskana scrappy spirit and weathered toughness that saw him by way of 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 best show of perseverance and was loved by his fans.”

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

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