The man must be made of iron – he and his dogs alike. Chosen as the World’s Toughest Athlete in 2008, he has successfully proved this point by winning, for the third consecutive year, one of the most extreme competitions the world has to offer.
Thanks to DiscoveryNetworks for posting this ad for the 2008 race.
It has been called the “Last Great Race on Earth” and it has won worldwide acclaim and interest. It is an incomparable race. Over 1150 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain you can imagine – jagged mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forests, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast.
It’s not just a dog sled race, it’s a race in which unique men and woman compete. Mushers come from all walks of life: fishermen, lawyers, doctors, miners, artists, natives, Canadians, Swiss, French and others; men and women each with their own story, each with their own reasons for going the distance. It’s a race organized and run primarily by volunteers – thousands of volunteers, men and women, students and village residents.
And it’s a commemoration to the past, to the history of Alaska. The Iditarod Trail, now a National Historic Trail, began as a mail and supply route from the coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the interior mining camps at Flat, Ophir, Ruby and beyond to the west coast. In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a life saving highway for epidemic-stricken Nome on the west coast. Diphtheria threatened and serum had to be brought in. There was no other route than the Ititarod Trail, and no other form of transport than the mushers and their faithful dogs.
The route changes slightly depending on whether the year is an odd one or an even one. The odd one is the southern route and actually goes through the now ghost town of Iditarod itself.
There are names which are automatically associated with the race — Joe Redington, Sr, co-founder of the classic and affectionately know as “Father of the Iditarod.” Rick Swenson from Two River, Alaska, the only five time winner, and the only musher to have entered 20 Iditarod races and never finished out of the top ten. Dick Mackey from Nenana (Lance’s father) who beat Swenson by one second in 1978 to achieve the impossible photo finish after two weeks on the trail. Norman Vaughan who at the age of 88 has finished the race four times and led an expedition to Antarctica in the winter of ’93–’94. Four time winner, Susan Butcher who was the first woman to ever place in the top 10. And of course, Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod in 1985… to name but a few.
This year’s Iditarod was the 37th. The first race was run on March 3, 1973.
Lance Mackey crossed the finish line yesterday, (Wednesday 18th March) at 11.38 a.m. local time. He finished the 1,100-mile + trek about six hours ahead of the second- and third-place mushers, Sebastian Schnuelle of Canada and John Baker of Kotzebue.
Lance Mackey 2009 Champion
Mackey, 38, became the third musher in the race’s 37-year history to win in three consecutive years, joining Susan Butcher (1986-88) and Doug Swingley (1999-2001). With the win, Mackey received $69,000 and a new pickup.
Mackey — a popular figure in Alaska now being called “the people’s musher” — then thanked fans despite having slept little in the past 10 days. He accepted their congratulations and signed autographs with people lined up three-deep along the finish chute.
Mackey commended his “little superstar Maple,” a 3-year-old female who was in the lead for much of the last part of the race. He hauled her and 9-year-old Larry, one of his traditional lead dogs, onto the stage with him.
He was so far ahead of the oppositon that he even had time to stop his team about a half mile outside Nome, where he went down the line, primping and thanking each of his 15 dogs before resuming the final stretch. Immediately after winning, he gave treats to his dogs, calling them the “real heroes.”
The race pits man and animal against nature in seriously extreme conditions.
Mother nature threw everything at the mushers this year. “First we had snow and wind. Now we have wind and wind,” said Sebastian Schnuelle on Tuesday. The veteran mushers said the cold and wind leaving Shaktoolik was some of the worst weather they had ever experienced on any trail. Winds so strong that Schnuelle’s dog team was blown sideways.
Thirteen mushers, including four-time champions Jeff King and Martin Buser, were holed up at the checkpoint in Shaktoolik, stopped by 40 mile-per-hour winds and wind chill driving temperatures to more than 50 below. Temperatures were expected to be even colder Tuesday night.
Sixty-seven teams began the race more than a week ago in Willow, about 50 miles north of Anchorage. Nine teams scratched or had been withdrawn.
There is a prize for the last person to finish the race too – that musher is awarded the Red Lantern. The longest time for a Red Lantern was 32 days, 15 hours, nine minutes and one second by John Schultz in 1973. The quickest Red Lantern musher was David Straub with a time of 14 days, 5 hours, 38 minutes and 12 seconds.
To recap Lance Mackey’s successes to date, let me remind you that he is a four-time winner of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest and now three-time winner of the 1,100 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. In 2007, he became the first person to win both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod in the same year, and repeated the feat in 2008. This was considered almost impossible by many and is considered one of the most impressive feats by a musher. Lance was nominated for a 2007 ESPY Award based on his performance. He also won the Tustumina 200 in 2008.
Remember that he was diagnosed with throat cancer after the 2001 Iditarod race and underwent extensive surgery as well as radiation treatment, he started the 2002 Iditarod but had to scratch after the race got underway. He took a year off to recover and is now considered cancer-free.
An extreme competitor in extreme conditions.