FAIRBANKS (AP) — A four-time champion of the Yukon Quest sled dog race is getting back into the competition.
Lance Mackey on Monday signed up for the 1,000-mile race between Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and Fairbanks.
Mackey, 44, is a cancer survivor and has continued to battle health problems, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. He didn’t race in the Yukon Quest last year and was going to let rookie Jimmy Lebling use a team from his Comeback Kennels in 2015. A promising young team helped persuade him to race himself.
“This is my backyard,” he said, gesturing toward the Chena River. “It’s hard not to want to be a part of that.”
Mackey won his first Yukon Quest in 2005. Three more titles followed along with four championships in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race.
An aging kennel contributed to recent decisions to stay on the sidelines. His last appearance in the Yukon Quest was in in 2013, when his depleted team reached Dawson City 36 hours behind the leaders. Mackey scratched at the halfway point and called it one of the most embarrassing moments of his career.
“I can’t go out on that note,” he said. “I don’t know what my future holds, but I ain’t going out like that.”
He does not have expectation of victory in 2015, he said, but has confidence in his young dogs.
He has a group of 2-year-olds, all black, that he calls “the ninjas.”
They’re descendants of his legendary lead dog Zorro.
“This is, in my opinion, the best 2-year-old dog team this sport has ever seen,” he said. “They will be famous in due time.”
His own health of is more of a concern.
Several fingers of his fingers don’t function anymore, he said, and his left forefinger was lost years ago to cancer surgery.
He will travel with electric hand and body warmers for the first time, he said.
“Mentally, I’m at 110 percent,” he said. “My body’s about 75 percent.”
The race begins Feb. 7 in Whitehorse.
A strong 28-team field will include Allen Moore, who has back-to-back titles, and former champions Hugh Neff and Jeff King.
“I think this is the most exciting field we’ve had,” said Marti Steury, the race’s Alaska executive director. The deadline for entering the race is Friday.