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March 19, 2009 4:45 PM

Lance Mackey Wins His Third-Straight Iditarod

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Lost in all this March Madness is news that Lance Mackey won his third-straight Iditarod, crossing the finish line in Nome early Wednesday morning. Having lived in Alaska and attended past Iditarods, I'd be remisced if I didn't at least mention it here.

Lance Mackey, with his near-famous lead dog Larry, pulled into Nome yesterday, finishing the Last Great Race in 9 days, 20 hours, 8 minutes. His reward: $69,000 and a new Dodge pickup. It was Mackey's record-tying third consecutive title, making him just the third person ever to win three-in-a-row.

Only twice before have mushers put together three wins in a row in the 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, and those mushers -- the late Susan Butcher from Fairbanks and Doug Swingley from Lincoln, Mont. -- are now legends in the sport.

Never before has the Iditarod known a three-time winner who also has four victories in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

And never in the pre-Mackey era was it ever thought possible to win both the Quest and the Iditarod in the space of about a month with essentially the same dog team. Mackey has done it twice ...

There are mushers with more Iditarod victories than Mackey -- Rick Swenson from Two Rivers has five; Martin Buser from Big Lake, Jeff King from Denali Park, Butcher and Swingley each have four -- and every one of them would testify as to how hard it is to put together even two in a row.

And of the three, this win was perhaps his toughest, as the 2009 Iditarod reminded many of the "pre-global warming" years, with whipping winds resulting in brutally cold temperatures, sometimes reaching as low as 40 degrees below zero.


One musher, John Baker, pulled into the Koyuk checkpoint with "...the lashes of his left eye still just about frozen together from driving into the wind and 20- to 30-below cold." Things got so bad along that coast that two dogs died (apparently froze to death), and their musher, Lou Packer, had to be rescued.

With the temperature near 45 degrees below and two dogs already dead from the cold, 55-year-old Lou Packer huddled all alone beside a meager fire in one of the most remote areas left in North America and wondered if he would be next.

Already he had spent one night zipped in the bag on his dog sled wrapped in a sleeping bag listening to the winds howl across an exposed ridge on one of the rolling hills in the Innoko River country. On waking that morning, he knew he had to find better shelter for himself and his dogs or all would perish ...

"It was a very, very bad situation.''

Mackey was fortunate enough the get through the coastal-winds unharmed. Will this third-straight win change him at all? Don't count on it. "Yeah, (this) might change some people, but it damn sure hasn't really changed me at all."

"I am just a regular guy. I don't ever want to become someone else. I've seen some of my competitors change after their success. It's kind of embarrassing for them, and I ain't even part of it."

Photo by Al Grillo/Associated Press

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