Iditarod Champion Rick Mackey Passes Away

Iditarod champion Rick Mackey died Monday in Fairbanks, Alaska following a 19-month battle with cancer, according to his family.

A Facebook post shared by daughter Brenda Mackey expressed grief at the loss but found comfort that the loss came tied to a family tradition — the number 13, the bib number Mackeys always draw for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

“Last night our family lost my dad to his 19-month battle with cancer. May 13th. I knew it would be the 13th. I felt it on Saturday and upset grandpa saying so, but it was his number, grandpa’s number, uncle Lance’s number. A special number in our family. Grandpa said that finalizes the number in our family,” the post read.

As stated in the post, Mackey had been suffering from cancer for several months before. The cancer had spread to his bones and spinal cord by the time he passed away.

His family has a long history of running dogsled races, and Rick was the first in his family to run a dogsled race at the age of six, which led the rest of his family to start doing sprint races as well.

As a result of running the Iditarod in four different decades throughout his life, Mackey completed a total of 22 races during his lifetime. He’s one of only six mushers to win the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. In addition to the Yukon Quest, he also competed in 26 1,000-mile races, won two Kuskokwim 300s, as well as won several humanitarian awards during the Iditarod, including the fastest time from Safety to Nome.

The Iditarod’s website says Rick Mackey was born May 1, 1953, in Concord, New Hampshire, and joined his father Dick in Alaska by 1959, later helping to train for the first run of the Iditarod. He won the 1983 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and enjoyed hitting the trails with his team alongside his father Dick and brothers Jason and Lance. Rick was married to his wife Patty for more than 40 years and was the father to daughter Brenda and son Roland.

Rick Mackey was a Trickster

When Mackey was on the Iditarod trail, he had a flair for playing tricks. For example, one year he left bunny boots in a cabin so everyone thought he was still there and hadn’t left yet, and he was known to play tricks as well. It was before trackers were introduced to the sport.

“I think it’s really important to honor these mushers and talk about their history as time goes on,” Mackey said. “They’re the backbone of the entire history of the sport.”

Iditarod, It’s Time to Retire Bib 13

On the Mushing podcast, producer, Robert Forto urged the Iditarod to retire the number 13. “I think it is fitting to pay homage to the Mackey family and retire bib 13,” said Forto. Dick Mackey, was one of the founders of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and won the event by a one-second margin over Rick Swenson in 1978. Lance’s half-brother Rick, also won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1983. All three won the race on their sixth attempt while wearing bib number 13. Now with the passing of Rick on the 13th of May, there is only more reason to retire the infamous number.

Rick was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer — small cell lung cancer — just two weeks after Lance Mackey died from cancer complications. His daughter says he was surrounded by loved ones in the week leading up to his passing, all telling him stories and adventures. She says his wife Patti was constantly by his side and holding his hand.

“It’s unimaginable to think of him being gone,” Brenda’s post read. “We’ve had almost 2 years of anticipatory grief, but like my grandpa said it doesn’t really help soften it.”