Floor Speech: Murkowski Congratulates Lance Mackey and His Team on Winning the Iditarod
*** As Prepared for Delivery ***
"Madam President, my colleague from Oklahoma has given me a fine lead-in this evening to rise and tell an amazing story of an Alaskan dog musher named Lance Mackey and the story of his dog teams that carried him to yet another recordbreaking victory today in the toughest race on Earth, and that is the Iditarod.
"The story of Lance Mackey is not only amazing because of his skill and his determination in the sport of dog mushing, but Lance Mackey has also overcome some very incredible personal challenges. He had a victory over cancer that preceded his victories in the sport of dog mushing.
"Lance is a lifelong Alaskan. He married his high school sweetheart. He has four children.
"He was diagnosed with throat cancer after finishing in 36th place in the 2001 Iditarod sled dog race. After that race--the man doesn't give up--he had extensive surgery and radiation treatment.
'He attempted to complete the Iditarod the following year, in 2002, after this surgery, but he had to scratch. He had to drop out of that race, taking time off from dog mushing to recover from his cancer and the surgery. He is now considered cancer free. He went on to win the Yukon Quest, one of the two major sled dog races in Alaska. He did this in 2005 and 2006. Then Lance Mackey went on to do what no one had done before and what most people consider absolutely impossible. In 2007 and 2008, he won both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, two incredibly grueling races, with only a week and a half in between each race to rest before he moved to the next event. For the first time in the history of the races, Lance had won both races, and he did so 2 years in a row. And today, Lance Mackey won the Iditarod yet again.
"For those of you who may be unfamiliar with either the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest, these races are the world's two longest sled dog races. Both races span over 1,000 miles of really tough mountains, rugged mountains, frozen tundra, dense forests. These are true tests of dedication and determination. Not only does the rugged terrain pose immense obstacles, but they have the weather that factors in. It is starting to turn a little bit like spring around here, but back home it is still winter, and these mushers face temperatures which frequently drop to 30 or 40 degrees below zero. And then they have the wind that kicks up, winds gusting up to about 100 miles per hour. So you can imagine what the wind chill factor is as you are racing those dogs in the weather and the elements.
"The annual Yukon Quest sled dog race is a 1,000-mile international trek. It goes from Fairbanks, AK, over to Whitehorse in Canada. Lance Mackey and his team of canine athletes have won this race 4 years in a row.
"The race Lance won for the third consecutive year today is the 1,100-mile Iditarod sled dog race. This race starts in Willow, AK, and ends up in Nome, AK. The race commemorates the 1925 diphtheria serum relay. They ran dog teams in a relay to pass along a vaccine for diphtheria.
"They needed to get it from Anchorage, where it had come in by ship, to Nome. At that point in time, we didn't have the ability for air transport to get into Nome. So how do you move it and how do you move it quickly? Well, we resorted to a series of dog teams to move that serum north and to save the lives of those who were infected.
"Today, the Iditarod is no longer run as a relay, but it is a race of individual dog sled teams. This 1,100-mile race takes the mushers into some incredibly beautiful areas. The journey they travel through--the Alaskan wilderness--is exceptionally beautiful. But as I mentioned, you not only have tough terrain but you have brutal weather. This year has been particularly tough, with the snow and the wind. It has caused delays, it has caused real setbacks with the mushers and the teams as they have been trying to go through high snowpack. There have been some accidents, there have been some sleds that have been lost, and it has been very difficult. We had some near hurricane force winds that forced dog musher Lou Packer and his dogs to be airlifted to safety, and he and his team had to quit the race. He described what I would call life-threatening weather conditions by saying: 'We were climbing over this mountain and we got hit by this wind that hit us like a hammer. The temperature dropped--started plummeting--and I lost the trail. And the wind started to build and build, and then the wind got bad, so I climbed in my sled and it was pretty much a survival situation at this point. I threw all the gear out of my sled and climbed in and zipped it up; it was probably 30, 35 below, I have no idea.'
"These are the types of individuals who train all year long with their dogs to prepare for this incredible race. So it is not just the musher whose success we celebrate but it is these incredible four-legged athletes that are absolutely astounding.
"Some of the other mushers out on the trail are pretty extraordinary folks, such as John Baker, out of Nome, Sebastian Schnuelle and Aaron Burmeister. They were describing other conditions along the trail. Schnuelle described it as brutal, but he said: 'At times the wind was blowing so hard out of Shaktoolik that his dog team moved sideways. Well, when you have about 15 or 16 dogs pulling a loaded sled and a musher and you have winds that are blowing you sideways, you know you are in some weather'. He commented further: 'First we had snow and wind. Now we have wind and wind.'
"Well, earlier this afternoon, thousands gathered at the famous burled wood arch on Front Street in Nome, AK, to cheer on Lance Mackey as his dogs carried him to victory over his extremely talented and resilient competitors from all over the world. This is an international race, most absolutely. Lance and his team of canines completed the race a little less than 3 hours short of 10 days.
"Imagine yourself standing on the back of sled runners going over mountain ranges, going through ice and snow, in temperatures of 30 below and the wind howling at you. And that is fun, ladies and gentlemen. This is man and dog against Mother Nature, and the best teams sure are winning.
"Alaskan newspapers tell a story of Lance's fired-up dog team after taking his only 24-hour break during the race. He broke in a town called Takotna. After the layover was completed--you have to rest for 24 hours, mandatory, because sometimes your teams don't want to rest; they want to keep moving. Well, after this layover was completed, Lance's 16 dogs were barking and pulling at their tug lines like they were leaving the race's starting line. Lance said he had this amazing run, and he was going to put the bale of straw out for the dogs to rest. He had every intention of stopping, but then he sees that his dogs are yelping and barking to get going, so he takes off. He said: 'They're telling me what to do. So I dumped the straw, and it's been heaven ever since.'
"What you have here, with this individual musher, Lance Mackey, who cares so deeply for the health and the condition of these four-legged athletes, is a guy who has shown a great mastery of working with and training these canine athletes for the sport of dog mushing. The Anchorage Daily News last year, when he won, stated: 'A musher doesn't win four straight 1,000 mile Yukon Quests and two straight Iditarods by making dogs run. He wins by making dogs want to run.'
"Lance describes working with his dogs this way: He says: 'The biggest challenge working with a large team of dogs is the individual personalities. Like a classroom full of kids, all with issues, wants, questions, some barking wildly to get my attention, and then there are some who just do what needs to be done and require only a nod or a smile. Every dog is different. Every need is different. That is what I love. The reward is seeing them all come together as a team working for a common goal. It's just cool.'
"I had the opportunity last week--when I was up in the State for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod--to go around and talk with the mushers and see all their teams. I had a chance to see Larry, his lead dog. My favorite is Lippy. I just kind of like the name, but Lippy has great little eyebrows. My favorite picture is with Lippy, but these dogs all have personalities unto themselves. And when they do come together as a team to do these incredible athletic feats, we must acknowledge and respect them.
"Lance Mackey continues to impress all of us with his remarkable achievements and record-setting performances. He is an inspiration to others who struggle with cancer. He named his dog kennel up north the Lance Mackey's Comeback Kennel. I think that is most appropriate. So it is my honor today to stand before the Senate to congratulate Lance Mackey and his team of amazing dogs. Lance is a world-class dog musher and a true Alaskan hero, and I wish him and his team continued success and good health in the future.
"With that, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum."
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