Honoring Lance

by Terrie Hanke

February 25, 2023

Jr. Iditarod and Iditarod have named Lance Mackey as the 2023 Honorary Musher.  Mackey participated in the Jr. Iditarod from 1985-1988.  He is the winner of eight 1,000 mile races – 4 Yukon Quests and 4 Iditarods.  If there were a musher Mt. Rushmore carved into the towering rock walls that guide the Yukon River, surely Lance Mackey would be included.  The legendary and iconic Mackey passed away in early September at the age of 52.


Lance was born into a mushing family.  Dick, his father, and brothers Rick and Jason are all Iditarod veterans.  Dick and Rick are champions.  Each earned Iditarod gold in his sixth race wearing bib number 13.  Lance would be running his 6th Iditarod in 2007.  Back in those days, the first musher to sign up had the first choice of bib numbers.  In June, he camped at Iditarod Headquarters for an entire week prior to the first day of musher signup so he could be at the front of the line.  The family tradition held up as Lance won his first Iditarod on his sixth attempt wearing bib #13.


Lance experienced way more than his share of challenging times.  School just wasn’t his thing.  He’s gone through drug abuse, addiction and treatment.  The lump he discovered on his neck during the 2001 race was stage four throat cancer.  During the 2008 All-Alaska Sweepstakes, a snowmachiner hit Mackey’s sled and seriously injured his famed dog Zorro.  Mackey lost his partner, Jenne Smith, in a 4-wheeler accident in the fall of 2020.  And then in 2021 a new cancer invaded his throat.  


Lance says his dogs brought him through the darkest times of his life. He lived for his dogs.  When things got tough Mackey was just a little tougher.  He figured out ways to work smarter so he could keep on working with dogs.  Because not working with dogs was unthinkable.


Love and understanding flowed both ways between Lance and his dogs.   Mackey’s dogs were welcome in the house and would often choose to sleep on his bed.  If at bed time Zorro, Larry, Lippy, Handsome, Maple or Rev occupied the bed then Lance would grab a blanket and sleep on the floor.  He said, “They deserve the comfort more than I do.” 


In 2005 as a Yukon Quest rookie, he was crowned champion.  He won the next three to make it four Quest wins in a row.  In 2007 he won his first Iditarod.  He won the next three to claim four consecutive Iditarod crowns.  He’s the only person to have that distinction.  Mackey won both the Quest and the Iditarod in 2007 and 2008!  Impossible for anyone except Lance Mackey. 


In 2008, as the first musher to arrive in McGrath, Lance received the PenAir Spirit of Alaska Award.  The award symbolizes the spirit of the dogs and the musher becoming one in Iditarod.  There are no truer words than these to describe Lance Mackey!  


Lance, may you rest in peace as your legacy lives on through your family, your fellow mushers, those you have mentored, your fans and the  bloodlines of your canine athletes.