Lance Mackey has been described as cagey, steadfast, stubborn, cocky, confident, tough, survivor, and a true Alaskan legend!
In 2007, and again in 2008, Lance Mackey made racing history when he won two 1,000 mile races back-to-back, the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, with most of the same dogs - an incredible feat of endurance, long considered almost impossible.
For his achievements Lance was nominated for a 2007 ESPY - Excellence in Sports Performance Award, and in 2008 he was named Sports Illustrated's #2 Toughest Athlete in the World. In September 2008, Versus, a media partner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, conducted their Red, White, Black, and Blue (RWBB) "Cam Pain". Lance Mackey was voted "Toughest Athlete on the Planet". Lance beat out the likes of Bret Farve and another Lance, Lance Armstrong, during the competition.
Lance's indomitable lead dog, Larry, is the only dog in the world to win the coveted Golden Harness Award from both of these grueling races.
Lance, a cancer survivor, comes from a family of sled dog racing champions. His father Dick Mackey helped create the world's most famous race, the 1,049 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, in 1973. Five years later his father won the race by one second in a world-famous photo finish.
Lance, his wife Tonya, and their family make their home, Comeback Kennels, near Fairbanks.
Q&A for Lance from Discovery Channel
What do you find is the biggest challenge when working with animals?
"The biggest challenge working with a large team of dogs is the individual personalities. Like a classroom full of kids, all with issues, wants, questions, some barking wildly to get my attention and then there are some who just do what needs to be done and require only a nod or a smile. Every dog is different. Every need is different. That's what I love. The reward is seeing them all come together as a team working for a common goal. It's just cool."
What made you choose your lead dog?
"Lead dogs are not 'chosen' to be leaders, they are either born with the drive to lead or they are not, and from that, only a few become GREAT leaders. Like Larry or Zorro."
How long does it take to train the dogs for the amount of endurance required?
"It is a year-round effort training and conditioning the dogs. Like any athlete, it is a lifestyle of proper nutrition and a good exercise program. We start serious physical and mental training the first of September to race a thousand mile endurance race like the Yukon Quest or Iditarod."
How do you keep yourself motivated when you're on the trail?
"My motivation is a strong determination to do well and showing everyone the full potential of my dogs. The reality is, I want to make my dogs proud of me. I work as hard as they do and I think they know that. There is nothing more rewarding than happy, enthusiastic dogs at the end of a race. It's difficult to explain. It's just a tremendous drive and a want."
What do you think is your biggest strength and/or weakness when competing?
"My strength is my determination to do well. I am good under pressure, I find it very motivating. I thrive on those that say to me 'can't do' and I don't need much sleep. My weakness when competing — when I do sleep, I sleep hard. What I lack physically, I make up for mentally. For me, it's all about appetite and attitude."
I asked my friend, Janet Tremer, to add her impressions of Lance. Janet has been Lance's Idita-rider the past 2 years.
"What attracted me to Lance Mackey originally was an article in 2006 about him stopping on the sea ice outside of Nome. Why did he stop? To thank his dogs and to celebrate the moment with them before the chaos of crossing under the Burled Arch was upon them. Anyone who loves his dogs that much and who after 9 sleep deprived days and 1,000+ miles under brutal conditions still has the presence of mind and the spirit to live in the moment and to stop and smell the roses on the frozen Bering Sea in order to celebrate life, gets my vote.
I've learned under countless circumstances what a heart this man has and how thankful he is for what he has. While riding in his sled in 2007 & 2008 Ceremonial Starts, I was priviledged to hear him thank every single volunteer and police officer who helped with the race. The people poured out love and good wishes to him as we passed and he loved the fans right back, thanking them for coming out to support the race. I've watched him in checkpoints on the frozen Yukon ask for little and expect nothing while taking time to chat with the checkpoint volunteers and residents. Lance clearly loves life and his enthusiasm for it is infectious."
Janet and Lance