Lance Mackey says he never really knew what depression was, but certainly felt like he went through a bit of it in the past year or two. Between the constant physical reminders of his bout with cancer, relationship troubles, and a complete rebuild of his Comeback Kennel with new handlers and puppies still cutting their teeth, the four-time Yukon Quest and Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion has had a lot on his mind.
On top of all his other woes, Mackey is also dealing with Raynaud's Syndrome, which he says causes "circulation issues that would put most people on a beach or in front of a heater". The condition, which leads to poor circulation in the hands and feet, particularly in the cold, gives Mackey trouble even in the summer. He said he was wearing gloves with chemical warmers while prepping food drops for this year's Iditarod, his 13th.
It's hard to fathom how this champion dog musher went from being such a success to falling into such difficulties, but Mackey seems to take his recent hard times in stride.
"I don't have to prove myself to anybody," Mackey says. He's right -- he's proven himself plenty of times before, and is already one of the most celebrated mushers in Alaska history.
Even despite his past successes, he's still driven to be competitive. Mackey has invested a hefty sum in gear to keep himself warm on the trail this year. Solar panels and a generator keep his battery-powered gloves, shirt and slippers charged, and he purchased custom-made, heavy-duty mittens from Robert Miller of Sea Fur Sewing in Sitka.
It's an extra 10 pounds on his sled, but if it gets Mackey through a 1,000 mile race, he'll take it.
According to Mackey, he was in pain through most of his most his recent Yukon Quest race, but he endured for the love of the sport and his dogs. His fans are a dedicated bunch, so even when he came in second to last they still went crazy when he arrived in Fairbanks.
Nowadays, Mackey is often asked what he's going to do when he retires, and he counters with a "Who said I was retiring?"
"I think I would be a good person to represent and defend our sport and promote it. But I have a face for radio, so that would be my next opportunity maybe," Mackey says with a smile.