LIVE YOUR DREAM
Brenda and Will first crossed paths during the 1000 mile 1998 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Will had spent the winter as a dog handler and trainer for Dan Turner, who was a rookie in the event. Brenda was also a rookie in her first major race concentrating on getting down the trail. The two shared a mere meeting of the eyes at the Carmacks checkpoint. They officially met during the summer of 2000 when they were both offered jobs at Alaska Icefield Expeditions on the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. After four months of living on the glacier in rustic conditions they found they made a good team working without the traditional handler helpers as the crew downsized throughout the summer. That fall Brenda went home to continue going to school at UAF, a long commute from her hometown of Nenana, AK. She balanced helping her dad prepare for his annual Iditarod and her own mid-distance races. Will decided to head north to visit Brenda after finishing a couple more weeks of work in Haines and changed his plans to head to Colorado to attend school there. Together they started to build a life together. They moved to Two Rivers and bred their first litters of puppies, dogs who 10 years later would become foundation dogs in the kennel today. Life took a different direction for a few years while they focused on finishing school, working, and raising their daughter, Isabel, to be of an age to better partake in sled dog activities.
Brenda Mackey was born into the world of competitive sled dog racing just weeks after her grandfather, Dick Mackey, won the 1978 Iditarod by one second over distance mushing legend Rick Swenson. Brenda’s father, Rick Mackey, followed in his father’s footsteps five years later winning the 1983 Iditarod, and later winning the 1997 Yukon Quest. He is one of 5 mushers to have won both 1000 mile races as well as winning the prestigious Kuskokwim 300 twice. Her uncle, Lance Mackey, is arguably the most prolific distance mushing champion the sport has ever seen, winning a combined eight Iditarod and Yukon Quest titles between 2005 and 2010. In 2021 Brenda became the 6th Mackey family memeber to run Iditarod, and the first female Mackey to do so.
Brenda spent the majority of her childhood years in the “bush” outside of Trapper Creek, Alaska where her parents, Rick and Patti Mackey, owned and operated Mackey’s Happy Dog Kennel. Living off the grid meant no phones, no electricity, no running water, the family hauled suppies 80 miles by truck, boated them across Moose Creek, loaded them onto an ATV and trailer and out into the back country. They had 120 sled dogs at one time and spent many hours just getting supplies into the homestead. Rick ran the Iditarod annually and was a consistent top 10 finisher earning 2nd and 3rd as well. Rick and Patti prepared the 1000 plus pounds of meat needed for the race by hand with an ax, no bandsaw or chop saw like mushers use these days! Brenda entered and won her first dog race at three year’s old, racing in the one-dog class. Rick primarily supported the family through race winnings and dog sales. Chasing a longer mushing season and more manageable annual snowfall, the family moved north to Nenana, Alaska in 1990. Throughout high school Brenda chose to homeschool in order to devote as much time to the family dog kennel as possible, following her passion. By the age of 14 she was responsible for training the kennel’s yearling team, booking and guiding spring tours, the endless list of kennel chores, and helping her dad train for his Iditarod and Yukon Quest races. At the age of 19 she became one of the youngest mushers to complete the 1000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. In 1999 Brenda was given the title of Youth Ambassador for the Yukon Quest and traveled to Spain and France to speak about the race. Brenda graduated with honors from the University of AK Fairbanks with a B.A. in both psychology and Sociology in 2007.
Will Rhodes was born and raised in the small town of Crescent City in the northwest corner of California. Growing up in the coastal redwood forest Will’s family spent their free time exploring the outdoors, backpacking, camping, and fishing. Unlike Brenda, he grew up with just one dog, no snow – only rain during the winter, and merely read about dog mushing in books. However, Will’s parents met in Alaska and Will grew up watching slideshows of his father’s youthful adventures in Alaska and the Yukon Territory. Inevitably Will developed a fascination with the north country and believed he would see it for himself one day.
Will grew up in a highly competitive environment, and learned at a young age the value of hard work and dedication in achieving goals and realizing dreams. Will developed a passion for a number of competitive sports at a young age, beginning with wrestling in the 2nd grade. He excelled in wrestling and football and focused on these two sports into high school. He was a captain of his championship high school football team for four straight years.
After completing high school Will was restless, not ready to commit to college, and wanted to explore life outside of his home town. He decided to pursue his childhood fascination with Alaska and contacted his uncle in Haines in 1997. In Haines Will worked as a carpenter, helped produce birch syrup, and most importantly received his introduction to sled dogs. Will took an opportunity to spend the winter training and caring for Dan Turner’s 1998 Yukon Quest team under the tutelage of 1980 Iditarod Champion Joe May. This was Will’s first experience with sled dogs and he was a natural with them.
Will earned a B.S. in geology from the University of Fairbanks in 2005, and completed a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering at UAF in 2008. Since that time he has been consulting as an environmental engineer, currently working for Ahtna, Inc. Will enjoys the challenge of balancing a professional career and family life while operating a professional sled dog kennel.
In 2002 Will and Brenda became the proud parents of their daughter Isabel Rhodes. Born into one of the biggest mushing families in the world, Isabel was destined to ride on the sled runners. She ran her first two dog team at the age of three and started racing in the two-dog class at nine. She currently competes in junior sprint racing and took 2nd in the 2015 Junior North American Championships. Isabel was recently chosen to be a featured junior musher in The Sled Dogger Magazine. Isabel helps take care of the puppies, adult dogs, and enjoys sprint racing.
Isabel is a freshman at North Pole High School. Iz is a competitive runner and she is highly motivated running 6.5-7 miles almost daily. She enjoys socializing, hiking, traveling, writing, reading, being mischievous, and shopping.