Legendary Alaska musher Lance Mackey dies at 52

Lance Mackey waves from a dogsled
Iditarod musher Lance Mackey at the 2020 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska sled dog mushing icon Lance Mackey has died at the age of 52.

Mackey’s Comeback Kennel announced on its Facebook page that he passed away Wednesday evening after a long battle with cancer. Despite surviving a bout with throat cancer 20 years ago, Mackey announced last year that he had been re-diagnosed with the disease.

Mackey, who lived in the Fairbanks area, has been a fixture in long-distance sled dog racing for many years. He won the Yukon Quest four years in a row, starting in 2005. He’s also the only musher to win the Iditarod four straight years. The 1,000-mile races are held just a month apart. He became the only musher to win both races in the same year in 2007. And then he did it again the next year.

In a Facebook post on Aug. 5, Mackey wrote that he had been going through cancer treatments, and the past several months were the worst part. He said he was in the hospital, with 24-hour care. He said he wanted to thank his friends and family, and tell them how much he loved them.

“Fully believe it is not my time yet,” he wrote, “and I’m still doing pretty good but I’m going to have a lot of things to get done in my life.”

The mushing world mourned Mackey’s passing overnight on social media, with Iñupiaq musher Apayauq Reitan sharing a memory of Mackey helping her during the 2019 Iditarod.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the Iditarod said 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 lost his partner, Jennifer Smith, in 2020. She died in an ATV accident. Mackey had been raising the couple’s two young children alone after surviving a serious car crash last year.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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