Lance Mackey's dream of running in the Iditarod Dog Sled Race is coming true, and at the same time, the event is fulfilling a dream of his father.
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Mackey said he grew up racing and always wanted to be part of the Last Great Race, but things always stood in his way. At 18, he sold his dogs and began a career in commercial fishing.
This year, though, he will be one of 22 rookies to run the race.
His father, 1978 Iditarod champion Dick Mackey, had shared his dream with his son of seeing all of his children run the race. On Saturday, Lance will be the third of six grown children in his family to make the commitment. His brother Rick was the 1983 Iditarod champion.
"All I want to do is get there this year," Lance Mackey said.
Neither he nor his dogs have been the length of the trail before.
"We are going out to learn together," he said, adding he will travel the race with 16 dogs, between the ages of 18 months and 4 years. In all, Mackey's kennel consists of 61 dogs, and of those, more than 40 are pups.
Mackey grew up in Wasilla and later moved to Nenana. He made his most recent relocation to Kasilof four years ago and said he has no intentions of leaving.
"I always wanted to be down here," he said, "and now that I am here, I wouldn't leave it for the world."
He said he has been planning for the race for three years and took the past year off from fishing to prepare -- mentally, physically and financially.
"The rewards are definitely worth it," he said.
He also has raced in the Copper Basin 300 and the Tustumena 200 the past two years -- placing fourth this year in Kasilof -- to prepare for the Iditarod. He also participates in sprint races in Soldotna.
He said his father gave him some advice for the race.
"He said to just have fun," Mackey said.
His father also warned him not to get discouraged and to take his time getting to Nome.
Though Lance Mackey has been mushing most of his life, he is not sure if his adopted daughters -- Amanda, 12, and Brittney, 10 -- will carry on the family tradition.
He said both girls show an interest when it comes to racing, but since they did not grow up around dogs, he is not sure how deep that interest runs.
"For me, it is my blood," he said. "For them it is new."
Mackey said he is looking forward to running the race and meeting new people along the way. He also plans to involve his father in the race by having him on the second sled leaving Anchorage.
"I want my dad to be there."
He also is looking forward to receiving the belt buckle and patch that is awarded at the finish line.
"You can't get it any other way," he said.
With experience and a good dog team, Mackey will not only blaze a trail to Nome, but accomplish a lifelong goal. He said he is not sure how many other Iditarod races are in his future, but this race is "just practice."
"You're only going to do your first race once."
The start of 28th annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is Saturday at 10 a.m. Seventy-nine teams are scheduled to make the ceremonial start from Fourth Avenue in Anchorage to Nome.
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