Will and Brenda met and fell in love during the summer of 2000 working as sled dog tour guides for Alaska Icefield Expeditions. After a summer of fun and hard work on the Mendenhall Glacier, Will chased Brenda north to her hometown of Nenana, Alaska. Their dream of building a competitive sled dog racing kennel was set in motion. However, building a competitive kennel wasn’t just a dream, they had a plan. For close to 10 years Will and Brenda focused on life goals outside of working with sled dogs including earning college educations and raising their beautiful daughter, Isabel, to an age where she could actively partake in raising, training, and racing sled dogs with her parents. In 2011 they began breeding dogs, although breeding dogs was nothing new to Brenda; she merely picked up where she had left off in 2000, utilizing bloodlines she had grown up with from her parent’s kennel. Brenda’s parents, Rick and Patti Mackey, continue to maintain a 20-dog kennel of superior lineage at Mackey’s Happy Dog Kennel in Nenana, Alaska.
After raising puppies for a year at a rental property on the outskirts of Fairbanks, Will and Brenda found a fantastic mushing property along the Yukon Quest trail in the mushing mecca of Two Rivers, Alaska during the summer of 2012. In two short years of racing Will, Brenda, and Isabel have put together a string of wins and top finishes racing young dogs they have bred and trained at their kennel, Mackey’s Alaskan Distance Dogs.
Brenda Mackey descends from generations of champions. She 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. 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. One of Brenda’s primary goals in dog racing is to carry on the family tradition by being the sixth Mackey to run Iditarod, the first female Mackey to do so, and the fourth Mackey to win!
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. She 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 major races like the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. At the age of 19 she became one of the youngest women 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.
Brenda and Will crossed paths during the 1998 Yukon Quest. Will was a no-name dog handler, and Brenda was a sleep deprived rookie concentrating on getting down the trail; the two shared a mere meeting of the eyes at the Carmacks checkpoint. They officially met during summer of 2000 when they were both offered jobs at Alaska Icefield Expeditions on the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. They became a team on the glacier helping each other with dog care and guiding tours. In the fall of 2000, Brenda and Will began their life together in Fairbanks, AK.
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.