Thursday, September 29, 2022

Jessie Holmes focusing on recovery

Musher Jessie Holmes made a statement tonight thanking everyone for their support after news broke earlier that he was in a "very bad" accident while helping recovery efforts in the Alaskan village of Golovin. Holmes is currently being treated in Anchorage after being medevac-ed first from Golovin to Nome and then onto Anchorage. 

"I wanted to take a moment to let everyone know how much I appreciate all the love, support, and prayers," the Life Below Zero star wrote. "I’m blessed to be surrounded by such great people and lucky to still be here."

Holmes was in Golovin with a team of Iditarod mushers who, independent of the race, traveled to the village earlier in the week to help clear debris and repair homes ahead of winter on Alaska's West Coast.

Golovin experienced extreme flooding over a week ago when the remnants of Typhoon Merbok slammed the Western Alaska Coast. The historic Iditarod checkpoint had storm surges bringing waves over 10 feet high i to the community. Many who were born and raised in the area said they had never experienced anything like what they were going through now. It was reported as being the most intense storm for the area in over 70 years.

Holmes accident occured when he, Richie Beattie, Brent Sass, and Jeff Deeter worked to pull wet insulation out from underneath a house. Deeter reported later that as Holmes lifted the floor with a crowbar the house caved in onto the musher turned volunteer. Jeff was not in the building at the time but heard Sass and Beattie calling out for their friend.

As Deeter ran back to see what had happened he found the two men digging furiously to rescue their friend shouting for someone to bring a knife. Jeff said that it took them over 3 minutes to get Jessie unburied. Holmes would find out he had a broken wrist, a broken arm, and broken ribs among other injuries. That he was able to stand and smile for a picture is mind boggling.

Like most in Alaska (especially mushers), Jessie has no insurance and he is looking at a lengthy recovery just as he is headed into his busy season. He will miss training time with his dogs which will affect his race schedule.

"My main goal now is to focus on my recovery and get back to my kennel," he wrote late Thursday.

Holmes is already entered in the 2023 Iditarod and it remains to be seen how the accident will factor into his decision to run or not. Jessie finished third in the 2022 race narrowly beating out Dan Kaduce.

The musher concluded his statement with a message for those recovering from the storm, "My heart remains with the people in Western Alaska and hope people will continue to remember and support these villages as winter fast approaches."

The villagers of Golovin set up a GoFundMe for Holmes.

To donate for the recovery efforts of all villages and towns affected by Typhoon Merbok, the Alaska Community Foundation set up a Western Alaska Disaster Recovery Fund.

Iditarod musher Jessie Holmes injured while helping in Golovin

Musher and reality tv star Jessie Holmes was in Golovin earlier this week to help with clean up efforts in the village of Golovin this week after the village went underwater by the remnants of Typhoon Merbok last week. Holmes, along with several other known mushers, were working in Golovin to clear up debris and restore homes damaged by the flooding.

Late yesterday news broke that the musher had been in an accident and had broken his wrist, injured his other arm, and -though he was able to stand and walk under his own power- was in a neck brace. Holmes was first flown to the hospital in Nome, the closest medical facility, before it was decided he needed to go to Anchorage for surgery which required a second medevac flight. 

Like many in Alaska, Jessie is without insurance. The musher will be required to foot most if not all of the bill and two medical flights isn't cheap. His friends set up a gofundme which has raised nearly twenty thousand dollars in less than 24 hours, and the amount keeps rising.

With Jessie were mushers Jeff Deeter, Richie Beattie, Aaron Burmeister, and reigning Iditarod champion Brent Sass. Golovin was a checkpoint of the Iditarod for many years before it was decided that it wasn't needed with the way the race has gotten faster so it is an "unofficial" checkpoint these days as teams pass through but there's not an official dog drop, bag drop, or vet team there. It's still near and dear to the mushers and fans of the race, however, and when news spread that Typhoon Merbok had done major damage along Western Alaska (a very rare occurrence) many started to check in with the villages they've learned so much about thanks to the race.

Thankfully no loss of life has been reported anywhere due to the storm surge, but there will be a long road ahead of Western Alaska as they rebuild. Shaktoolik lost their storm and sea barrier in the storm. Hooper Bay and Golovin are underwater. Nome's famed Front Street took a beating, and the famed Bering Sea Restaurant and Bar burned to the ground and caused damage to the historic Nugget Inn. Kotzebue and Bethel also saw flood damage.

Causing more concern than the physical damage is the destruction of many's food supply for winter. Subsistence is a way of life for Western Alaska and when the flood waters came and the power went out many lost whatever they had stored in their freezers. Fish, wild game, berries, all spoiled. The harvest season is nearly over and winter is headed fast toward the region. This isn't like going to the store after a hurricane sweeps in - there's no road system to get shelves stocked in these villages. Everything has to be barged or flown in and with the change of season means barges won't be an option for long.

The village of Golovin is very thankful for the help they've received and rallied around the injured musher last night sharing the gofundme on social media. 

To help out Western Alaska you can donate to the Alaska Community Foundation's Western Alaska Disaster Recovery Fund.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Mackey remembered as great dog man and friend

Family, friends, and fans gathered Saturday at the Janssen Funeral Home in Palmer to pay tribute to legendary distance musher Lance Mackey. Mackey passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer on September 8, he was 52. While the service was well attended in person, many tuned in worldwide via a zoom link that quickly filled to capacity (the limit was set at 100 which was met in minutes). Everyone dressed as one would expect to tribute an Alaskan Dog Man - jeans and clean shirts (many featuring Lance's Comeback Kennel logo). The two hour service went quickly.

Soon after the pastor spoke, sharing the traditional "funeral scriptures" as well as a heartfelt tribute that wasn't your standard reading of the Obituary, the podium was open to anyone who wanted to share stories. Many of the Mackey family spoke, including Lance's older brother Rick, and his younger brother Jason. While Rick managed to get through his story without becoming emotional, Jason acknowledged he wasn't going to be successful. Jason thanked everyone for coming, and was touched so many of Lance's competitors came - to which Jeff King yelled out "wouldn't miss it!"

Lance and Jason had a special bond as they were closest in age and grew up together, and the loss of Lance has affected Jason greatly. Jason told several stories on his older brother before choking up when he pointed out, "There was never a time... never a time that Lance couldn't handle whatever was thrown at him. ...until this time." He soon after went to leave the podium saying he couldn't finish to which you could hear the family encourage him saying he did great. Jason then did a 180, went back to the podium and began listing the mushing greats that had gone on before, he finished by saying "there's a hell of a race going on up there."

Several mushers also spoke, sharing stories of Lance in his early mushing career. Barb Redington also spoke about Lance's history with the Jr Iditarod as well as the Last Great Race. She asked Iditarod Champions to raise their hands and read off some of the names - including Doug Swingley - then asked the audience to raise their hand if they ever ran the Iditarod and many more hands went up. Barb finished by reading an excerpt of Danny Seavey's write up on Lance's 2015 Iditarod entitled "What the Hell does Lance do now?" It was incredibly moving.

It wasn't all mushers. Several fans/race volunteers spoke, one of Lance's neighbors spoke as well. His sisters, niece Brenda, and youngest brother also told stories. Lance Mackey's ex-wife Tonya got up wearing her Raider's hoodie in honor of Lance's favorite NFL team and spoke of their moving to the Kenai Peninsula and how quickly Lance grew his kennel of misfit dogs. 

The Mushin' Mortician Scott Janssen spoke last, wrapping up the service by sharing that during his hospital visits with Lance he often read Robert Service to Lance. He then shared a parody poem he (Scott) wrote after running the 2018 Iditarod about the race. He shared that Lance often asked him to read it to him. 

After the service the reception took place with more stories and memories. Outside Nic Petit gave dog cart rides, and attendees were given the opportunity to drive Lance's race car. Overall the perfect send off for one of Alaska's most beloved sports icons. 

Barbara Redington didn't just share stories on the podium, she brought her camera along and posted the photos of the service to facebook.

As the service ended Greg Heister posted in the livefeed chat that Iditarod Insider shared an interview they shot with Lance and encouraged everyone to go and watch.

Sunday evening the service was uploaded in its entirety to YouTube, you can view it here.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Lance Mackey's car racing community gives tribute

It isn't just the mushing community giving tribute to the mushing legend. In the years since his whirlwind dominance of the Iditarod and Quest trails, Lance turned to car racing. He raced on many tracks in Alaska and in the North Western part of the Lower 48. In fact, it was after a roll over accident on a track that Lance was diagnosed with the cancer than would ultimately take his life. Odd how poetic his life had been, he was diagnosed with his first round of cancer back in the early 2000s after he had trouble swallowing/talking while running the Iditarod. 

After his car racing facebook page "Below Zero Racing" posted of his passing, word of course spread quickly and tributes came in. Below are a sampling of the ones shared throughout the week.

When Lance's health made it impossible for him to drive, fellow musher who's now got the car racing bug Nicolas Petit took over driving Lance's car. He will continue to drive in Lance's memory and honor.

More tributes to Lance Mackey

As everyone prepare to say a final farewell to Iditarod and Quest champion Lance Mackey on Saturday, tributes to the mushing legend continue to be posted. Many heartfelt stories and memories shared by those in the community from all over the world. This is, in a way, a part two from last weekend's round up

Lance touched so many lives, most likely more than he could have even imagined, and it's easy to "fall down the rabbit hole" following the tributes and reading in the comments others chiming in with similar stories where the champion musher took time out of his life to reach out and encourage those he didn't even know. Like many cancer warriors, Lance responded to many fellow warriors as they reached out to tell of their own battle. Even with all of Lance's hardships, he never thought his problems and his life were above another, and that has never been so evident as this past week as so many shared stories of Lance this week. Saturday should have even more of those moments.

And as a reminder, the family set up a GoFundMe for Lance's two youngest children, if you would like to donate you can click this link.

Don't worry, there's more, just below the cut.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Alpine Creek 200 & 300 is no more

The Alpine Creek Sled Dog 200 & 300 races went on social media earlier today to announce that their races were discontinued. Citing lack of musher interest and concerns for funding, the race informed the mushing world that it had lost another Iditarod & Quest Qualifier.

The race was created to fill a void after a number of mid-distance races in Alaska disbanded. Because so many teams were then without a way to finish their required qualifiers for their Iditarod and Quest runs, the organizers of the Alpine Creek Excursion decided to do a longer mid-distance race to help fill the void.

The Alpine Creek Lodge where the race took place, is a home away from home for many teams during the early winter training months as it is one of the first areas to get good snow pack for sled training. They will, of course, remain open for teams to use them as a jumping off point to trails. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Mackey memorial service set for Saturday

According to the obituary posted today for Lance Mackey, the memorial service for the 4-time Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion will take place on September 17th at 2pm AKST in Palmer at the Janssen's MatSu Funeral Home.

For those unable to attend in person a Zoom meeting has been set up to broadcast a live feed of the memorial service. If you have issues and it asks for codes/passwords they are:

Meeting ID: 833 3200 7986
Passcode: 333879

Mackey passed way late at night on September 7, 2022 after a lengthy battle with cancer. The 52 year old musher left behind many family and friends including his two youngest children who lost their mother in 2020.

In lieu of flowers the family has set up an account for Atigun and Lozen's future.

Northrim Bank
Account: 3109153682
Routing: 125200934

You may also donate via the GoFundMe Lance's sister Kristin Elieff set up benefiting Atigun and Lozen. 

The family is also requesting stories and photos of Lance be sent to Aunt Kris to share with his young children. You can share them on her facebook post found here.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Mushing Community pays tribute to Lance Mackey

Lance Mackey comes off the sea ice.
Nome, AK. March 15, 2019.
In the past 48 hours or so, social media has been flooded with tributes to legendary musher Lance Mackey following his passing Wednesday night. The four time Iditarod and Yukon Quest Champion (consecutive wins for both with two years of winning both thousand mile races) passed away after a length battle with cancer. Lance was 52 at the time of his passing and leaves behind an adult daughter as well as his young son and daughter with partner Jenne whom they lost in a rollover ATV accident in 2020. 

Below is a sampling of tributes made public by his fellow mushers.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Mushing Legend Lance Mackey has passed away

Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey greets the crowd
at the Re-Start of Iditarod 47. Willow, AK. March 3, 2019.
Around 12:30am on September 8 a simple message appeared from Dick and Cathy Mackey's facebook page "Our son, Lance passed away this evening after a long battle with cancer. More from all the family later." News slowly spread as mushers and fans woke to the news. Lance Mackey passed away on September, he was 52 and leaves behind two young children who just two years ago lost their mother.

Lance Mackey was probably the most famous of one of mushing's "royal dynasties". Lance's father Dick was one of the original trail blazers who helped Joe Redington get the crazy idea of an Iditarod Trail sled dog race off the ground. Dick would go on to win the Iditarod in 1978 beating young buck Rick Swenson by one second. The teams ran down front street together and seemed to finish in a tie - thus making the race marshal to declare that the winning team was the nose of the first dog to cross the finish, and that was Mackey's lead dog. In 1983, it would be Lance's older brother Rick who would win the Iditarod, making history as the first second generation champion.

Lance's story has been well documented through the years. His autobiography is still available for purchase, and the 2013 documentary "The Great Alone" is available on DVD and on several streaming platforms. Mackey's life was hard, admittedly at times by his own doing, and he didn't always make the best choices. Lance was always an open book to those around him - including fans - and that made him one of the most personable mushers in the history of the sport. 

Just as Lance had returned to the sport of mushing, building a kennel seemingly on a whim after moving to Kasilof, Alaska (located on the Kenai Peninsula, and home to the start of the Tustumena 200). He started running the smaller races as he built up his home and his kennel in true Lance style (by the seat of his pants with scraps and throw aways). 

During his rookie run in the Iditarod in 2001, Lance felt a lump in his neck after realizing he was having trouble swallowing. He would soon be diagnosed with throat cancer, and at one point doctors did not expect him to pull through. But by the 2002 Iditarod, Lance was back on the runners with a tube into his stomach for food and sponsorship from his team of doctors. He would scratch in Ophir that year, but he was already solidifying his legend status - and he hadn't won anything yet.

Just three years later Lance would start his run of dominating the sport of long distance mushing. He would go on to win four consecutive Yukon Quests from 2005 to 2008, and four consecutive Iditarod titles from 2007 to 2010, a feat that will most likely never be replicated. Mackey proved that the same team of dogs could win back to back long distance races in the same year, and did so with old school mushing styles and methods. 

Mackey's first Iditarod win reinvigorated the imagination of mushing enthusiasts world wide. Lance was convinced he would win in 2007, especially after he drew lucky bib number thirteen - the same number both his father and brother wore the year they won. Talk about your Disney Fairytale story - he did just that. From there, we had the story of Lance dominating and infuriating his competitors in the Last Great Race. Many will remember the story of Lance sneaking out of the cabin in 2008 while Jeff King slept, solidifying his win against the "winningest musher". The two would be rivals for the next three years before Lance's string ended.

Lance's personal struggles reignited soon after his fourth Iditarod championship with the implosion of his marriage, and a string of financial problems. Like always, Lance was open with it all and didn't try to hide his struggles. After having to scratch from the 2016 race, Lance did not plan to run the race again - but like all of the other failed retirements of the Iditarod greats, he found himself back on the runners in 2019 just to have fun. His personal life was on the upswing again with a new partner Jenne and their two children. While his health was not the best, he just wanted to run the race and have fun. He came in 26th, and at the finisher's banquet won his entry fee into the 2020 race, so he signed up for 2020.

2020 would be a very difficult year for Lance. While he finished top 20 in the Iditarod, he would have it stripped away a couple months later when his drug test at the finish would come back showing he was on illegal drugs while racing. The musher once again was open and honest with fans, promising to get clean again. He would enter rehab and do the work. On his return to Alaska he would have just a brief bit of normalcy before he would lose Jenne in a single person ATV rollover accident. Lance was the one to find her on the trail. He was now a single dad of two little ones.

Lance chose to focus on his kids and in his hobby of car racing after that, and was enjoying racing cars in Alaska and Washington, when in the late summer of 2021 he was once again facing a cancer diagnosis. He chose to once again let the world in on his struggle and vowed to fight with every fiber and beat the cancer. By June of 2022 Lance would be in and out of the hospital and the outcome wasn't looking good. In August of 2022 he would give an interview to Iditarod Insider that gave an update on his condition. As always Lance was not ready to quit and was planning to fight to the end. 

That fight ended in the late hours of September 7 with family and friends at his side. 

And now the mushing world mourns. Tributes poured in all day on Thursday. Fans, photographers, journalists, politicians, and fellow mushers - some the bitterest of rivals - posted throughout the day favorite memories of the dog whisperer. If there was any question that Lance wasn't a beloved member of the mushing community, that can be put to rest now. One can only hope that Lance himself finally understood and accepted how much he meant to not just his fans, but his community.