BULLIES come in all ages

BULLIES come in all ages
(click to see movie trailer)

Surround yourself with positive people,
energy, and situations;
always avoid negativity.


Life is too short to wake up with regrets.
So, love the people who treat you right.

Forgive, and then forget about the ones who don't.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lance Mackey's Story

Lance and Friends at Dinner

Glacier BrewHouse


(Sorry, I only got Tonya's

hand holding her wine)

As Nome prepares for Lance Mackey's arrival and 3rd consecutive Iditarod victory, I've reflected on the evening I had dinner with he and Tonya. Our dinner party was rather small (about 10 folks), so I was able to closely observe him.

Lance, signing my Iditarod book.

I can tell you Lance has the heart and spirit of a champion. I was reminded of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky character, the underdog who achieves his dreams through hard work, dedication, perseverance, and confidence. Sled-dog racing is all Lance knows and he has succeeded in becoming the best at his profession. He may not have a degree from any university hanging on his wall, but he deserves a Ph.D in Mushing!

Hanging out with Lance at Ceremonial Start

This is an interesting article about Lance from the Anchorage Daily News:

Lance Mackey
'IMPOSSIBLE': Musher's four consecutive wins in 1,000-milers set him apart.
Published: February 28th, 2009 10:39 PM

Last Modified: March 3rd, 2009 04:11 PM

To say Lance Mackey rose from humble beginnings to become a dominant force in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race would be to understate the roots from which his legend grew.

Mackey's story borders on a Lincoln- esque tale of one man's rise from a log cabin to the fulfillment of a childhood dream, except Mackey lacked anything so romantic as a log cabin. In the early years on the Kenai Peninsula, home for the Mackeys -- Lance and wife Tonya -- was first a tarp tent, and then a plywood shanty.
In this, he was a lot like a couple other Iditarod stars who Mackey joins this year in Iditarod Hall of Fame: five-time champ Rick Swenson from Two Rivers and the late Susan Butcher, a four-time champ. They, too, scraped by in the early years and knew their share of life in tents and shacks.

Tonya Mackey, Restart in Willow

For many of the mushers associated with The Last Great Race, the hardscrabble life has been an almost ritualistic part of giving themselves over to the dogs, of becoming a part of the team, of building a competitive unit out of a bunch of different individuals in much the way the military trains in the mud and cold to build a fighting unit.
People talk these days about the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to put an Iditarod team on the trail, but Lance Mackey started the process from nothing.

Granted, he'd been around sled dogs his whole life. His dad, Dick, won the 1978 Iditarod; his half-brother, Rick, won in 1983. But the only family resource passed Lance's way was knowledge. The Mackeys never had a lot of money. Lance couldn't even afford to buy dogs.
The team that won the 2007 and 2008 Iditarods and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest for four straight years from 2005 through 2008, was built from castoffs and rejects.
The beginnings of the team, Lance said, are "back in 2000, when I got a bunch of free dogs from around the Kenai Peninsula area."

Lance took those dogs and shaped them into the unit that started beating the same well-respected mushers who'd given him their unwanted pups. He found himself suddenly competitive with the likes of Dean Osmar, the 1984 Iditarod champ; his son Tim, a 10-time Iditarod top-10 finisher; and Paul Gebhardt, an Iditarod runner-up.
"I told my wife that I thought we had a pretty good team," Lance said.

How good was not immediately obvious to anyone outside of the Mackey household, however. In his first Iditarod in 2001, Lance finished an unnoticed 36th. He was almost three days behind Montana's Doug Swingley, another four-time champ and the only non-Alaska to earn a place in the Iditarod Hall of Fame.

No one figured Lance as a possible future Iditarod champ then, and even less so after cancer turned his life upside down three days after the end of that rookie Iditarod.
Doctors determined that the piercing headaches he had been experiencing for weeks were due to a squamous cell carcinoma growing rapidly in his neck. Within weeks, he was on the operating table. To save Lance's life, Dr. William Fell had to cut out neck muscle, lymph nodes, the internal jugular vein and several nerves.
Were the surgery itself not traumatic enough, Lance had to undergo 12 weeks of post-surgery radiation to try to zap whatever cancer cells might have been left. The radiation ate away at his jawbone. As a result, he had to have 10 teeth pulled. When the skin over the jawbone refused to heal, Lance had to sit through 16 weeks of hyperbaric oxygen treatment to help build red blood cells and regrow tissue.

He healed eventually but was left with permanent handicaps. Because most of his saliva glands came out with the cancer surgery, he has to constantly drink water to keep his throat moist. Because of nerve damage from surgery, he has limited mobility in his right arm.
Possibly worst of all for a long-distance sled dog racer, the radiation treatments left his body weakened against the cold. He has to take extra precautions to keep his hands and feet warm. He admits it is frustrating to see other mushers quickly and efficiently changing dog booties barehanded in zero degree temperatures while his work is slowed by the need to stuff his freezing fingers back into his beaver mitts to grab finger-warming chemical heat packs.

Ceremonial Start, Anchorage

Not normally one to complain about any of the cards life has dealt him, Lance does at such times make reference to "this cancer crap," then quickly adds that, of course, "the alternative was even sadder."
Lance understands that he -- like the world famous "Livestrong" cyclist with whom he shares a first name -- is lucky to be alive. Lance Mackey didn't come quite as close to death as Lance Armstrong, but he came close enough to smell it.

He is today hugely appreciative of what life has given him since doctors cut out the disease.
"I wouldn't be sad if this all ended tomorrow," he said this week, though he isn't expecting that to happen.

Having battled his way every inch of the way on the climb to the top of his profession, he doesn't plan to easily yield his position in the mushing world to anyone. And he believes that knowing what he knows now -- how to win -- makes winning easier than it was that very first time.
"I think my chances now are as good as they've ever been," the 38-year-old musher said. "I plan to stick with this as long as my body will allow. If I get five more years, I think I'd be satisfied, but I'll take 20 if I can get it."

His competitors might not take that as good news. Twice already he has accomplished what was thought to be impossible; three times, maybe, if you count surviving cancer and the debilitating surgery that came with it to win anything. Just coming back from that to become a competitive sled dog driver is something of a miracle.

Lance was in such tough shape in 2002 that though he entered the Iditarod and tried to gut his way to Nome, he had to drop out about halfway. It looked then like his career might be over. He announced he was going to take 2003 off to give himself some time to heal.
He was back in 2004, but his 24th place finish didn't exactly set the world of mushing on fire. It was respectable, no more.

Then came 2005, when he decided to give the Quest a shot, and everything changed. He won that grueling race as a rookie, and just days later jumped on the back of his sled to do the Iditarod. No one had ever done the two races back-to-back with any degree of success.
Lance, however, cracked the top 10. His seventh-place finish shocked many but was also considered something of a fluke. Every knowledgeable dog driver agreed it would be impossible -- simply impossible -- to win the Quest and the Iditarod in the same year.

Some thought Lance a little delusional to even think about trying. More suggested he might be better advised to take his promising young dog team and focus on the Iditarod, given that a top-five finish carried a bigger prize than victory in the Quest.
Lance felt obligated, though, to go back and defend the Quest victory in 2006. He won again, but his Iditarod performance appeared to suffer. He finished 10th.
"We told you so," people said. Winning the Quest and the Iditarod back-to-back, they repeated again, is impossible.
And yet, somehow Lance Mackey did just that in 2007.
"Unreal," he said at the finish line in Nome. "Unreal."

The impossible was his. There was only one question that lingered:
Was this simply some freak alignment of the planets, or was this guy something special?
Half-brother Rick, who didn't deal with sleep deprivation all that well, had won an Iditarod, too, but he never made it back to the winner's circle.
And dad Dick was another one-shot wonder, albeit one of the race's most colorful characters and the winner of the most dramatic race ever. He beat Swenson in a photo finish on Front Street.

Would Lance, too, prove a one-time winner?
What were the odds, after all, that anyone could do the impossible twice?
And then Lance did it -- winning both the Quest and the Iditarod again in 2008.
Impossible times two equals what?
Most certainly an invitation into the Iditarod Hall of Fame.

As Frank Gerjevic, one of the first reporters to cover the Iditarod and a member of the 2009 Hall selection committee, put it best:
"Lance Mackey? He could start breeding cats tomorrow and still belong in the hall of fame. Iditarod and Quest in one year? Twice? Mold broken. Bar raised."

Lance and Tonya's Son, Cain Carter
2009 Jr. Iditarod Champion

Video of Lance, first to arrive to the Coast:

Happy St. Patty's Day!!!
Happy Trails,


NESSA the hovawart said...

Wooow, ...great story for everyone to learn out something for himself..I can't belive that someone can be so strong as Lance...my mommy is fighting with sclerosis multiplex and she is as brave as could be and I'm helping her:-)
Thanks for sharing it.

Kisses and hugs,

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you lots today! That trip to River Street on St. Pat's with you, your Mom and Dad was my last! Thanks for the wonderful story about Lance. I am in awe! So hoping he maintains his lead and wins! What a testament to perseverance! SH

Anonymous said...

Hi Kit,
What a touching story about Lance.
I didn't know his background. Talk about determination and true grit he has it. Thank you for sharing, great pictures too.

Melissa said...

Wow! Lance is an amazing individual. Thank you for introuducing him to us. He gives me hope.

Love Melissa

Anonymous said...

What GREAT photos. You will have to get a photographer's pass for next year's race!
Love you and miss you.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on Lance and everything you post. Always interesting reads.

Anonymous said...

Lab Lady thank you for the piece on Lance I am following what i can of the race which is not much here in binghamton Ny. I read the news miner here on my computer every day loved my waveing at the cam to folks back home 3 years ago. bill (golance)

Anonymous said...

Kit .. I just want to say Thank You for your updates on the Iditarod here and in your Dog Daze blog. You've given us a personal view of the Iditarod that we'd normally not have. Some of your daily blogs look like they've been time-consuming to put together but you did it anyhow and for that I sincerely thank you.

MAX said...

Hey there Kit!

Thank you again for all this wonderful information about Lance Mackey!