Sports Illustrated recently published their list of 25 Toughest Athletes.
As with most such lists, most of the attention is on who earned spot #1. I’d like to instead talk about the #2 guy.
Both races are run by a driver, a team of 12-16 dogs, a single sled, and only the essential, required supplies required for the trip: an arctic parka, a heavy sleeping bag, an ax, snowshoes, musher food, dog food and boots for each dog’s feet to protect against sharp ice on the trail. Not only is the driver responsible for arctic survival for him/herself and the team, the driver is also required to take exemplary care of his dogs throughout the race and often runs a good part of the route when he/she wants to reduce the load or compensate for the terrain.
The Yukon Quest, held in February, is a 1,000 mile race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. There are 10 checkpoints and four mandatory longer rest periods spaced throughout the race, including a halfway 36-hour stop, where facilities and veterinary inspections are provided. Temperatures on the trail can range from -50°F to +25°F. The dogs typically run in a 4-6h on/4-6h off pattern around the clock, with the team and driver resting on the trail during their down time. Mackey’s 2008 winning time was 10d:12h:14m – the red lantern (last place) finisher’s time was 14:04:17.
The Iditarod, run in early March, is approximately 1,150 miles, from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome, Alaska. The route alternates yearly between a northern and a southern trail, and is often warmer and can be more hazardous than the Yukon Quest. There are 22 checkpoints and three mandatory stops on the race, one of them 24 hours. Mackey’s 2008 winning time for this race was 9:11:46, and the red lantern finisher completed the race in 14:19:51.
Oh, yeah – one more thing about Mackey. He’s a cancer survivor. After the 2001 Iditarod he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and spent the year undergoing surgery and chemotherapy. He started the 2002 Iditarod but scratched, took a year off, and has been running cancer-free ever since.
This is a tough athlete.
#1 on the Sports Illustrated list was Tiger Woods. Certainly, Woods plays golf like a genius, and his physical conditioning and mental toughness in a mentally challenging sport are legendary. Could he finish a 1,000 mile arctic dogsled race? After chemotherapy? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, Mackey could probably finish 4 x 18 hole rounds of golf – not necessarily with any kind of great score, but it’s do-able. My bet is he wouldn’t want to, though. No dogs are allowed on the golf course.