Mackey claims title in Knik 200

Cancer survivor uses mushing for recovery

Posted: Monday, February 03, 2003

WASILLA - Lance Mackey of Kasilof won the Knik 200-Joe Redington Sr. Memorial Sled Dog Race Sunday.

Mackey, who was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, arrived at the Knik Bar finish line at 9:42 a.m. Sunday, beating fellow Iditarod veteran and Kasilof resident Jon Little by 17 minutes.

Fourteen minutes later, Norwegian musher Jon Tonsberg arrived and placed third, 33 minutes ahead of Mackey's brother, Jason, who placed fourth.

Total race times were not immediately available.

Trail conditions were "absolutely beautiful," said Lance Mackey, who earlier in the day was running just one minute ahead of Little. "I'm not going to Nome this year. I wish I was now."

"It was awesome," said Little, who is signed up to run Iditarod 2003.

The Knik 200, postponed from its earlier Jan. 4 starting time due to lack of snow, started just a day after the Iron Dog snowmobile race was canceled because of poor trail conditions north of the area used for the Knik 200.

At one point, Little trailed Lance Mackey by just one minute. Mushing fans at the finish line at the Knik Bar, 15 miles from Wasilla, were anticipating a possible photo finish between Lance Mackey and Little, like the 1978 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in which Mackey's father, Dick, beat Rick Swenson by one second.

Mackey and Little, both of Kasilof, congratulated each other at the finish line. They said each missed a trail marker in the predawn hours Sunday, leading them off course about two miles before they realized their error.

When discussing his cancer, Mackey, 32, said getting back behind the sled helped him in his recovery. Mackey was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in 2001, a type of cancer that usually strikes people twice his age. He had surgery on his neck and shoulder to remove a fist-sized lump, then went through an extensive rehab process that included having a feeding tube inserted into his stomach.

"Cancer is a very emotional roller-coaster ride, but they (his dogs) give me something to strive for," Mackey told the Anchorage Daily News. "I'm still healing."

Mackey dropped one dog on Saturday and finished Sunday with a team of 10 and one in his basket. Little also crossed the finish line with 10 dogs, plus two in his basket. Mackey won $2,500 of the total race purse of $7,900.

Peter Bartlett of Willow was fifth out of a field of 30 mushers. Sixth was Dan Huttenan and seventh was veteran musher Tim Osmar. Jim Lainer, Rudi Nigghemeier and Matteo Gruzoni finished out the top ten.

The race, which began Saturday, was marred by a hit-and-run snowmachine driver who struck a team driven by pilot/guide Rick Townsend, about 12 miles north of the confluence of the Yentna with the Big Susitna River, said trail boss Bruce Breden.

Breden said the snowmachine driver offered no help and sped off, leaving Townsend with two bruised dogs.

Townsend's team was flown back to the finish line and residents of the area where the incident occurred were provided with a description of the snowmachine driver and his gear. Alaska State Troopers were seeking a suspect in the incident.

The Knik 200 is a qualifier for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

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