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Rick Maki, 1983 Iditarod champion, has died at the age of 71

Iditarod champion Rick Maki died Monday after a 19-month battle with cancer, according to his family. He was 71 years old.

A Facebook post shared by daughter Brenda Maki expresses sorrow for the loss, but takes comfort in the fact that it is tied to a family tradition - the number 13, the badge number the Maki's always took for Iditarod Trail dog sled races.

"Last night our family lost my father who had been battling cancer for 19 months. May 13th. I knew it was going to be the 13th. I felt it on Saturday and upset my grandfather by telling him, but it was his number, my grandfather's number, Uncle Lance's number. A special number in our family. Grandpa said it was the final number in our family", the post reads.

The report said McKee had already been suffering for months from cancer, which had spread to his bones and spinal cord by the time of his death.

Rick was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer - small cell lung cancer - just two weeks after Lance Mackey died from complications of the cancer.

"He really fought and struggled to stay alive in the last week .... It was very sad", McKee says. "He wanted more chemotherapy, but they couldn't give it because his body was too weak by that point".

His daughter says that in the week leading up to his passing, he was surrounded by loved ones who told him stories and adventures. According to her, his wife Patti was constantly by his side and held his hand.

He was described as a combination of "serious yet funny" and everyone loved his laugh.

At the age of 6, Rick was the first in his family to participate in dog sled racing, which encouraged the rest of his family to start sprint racing.

Throughout his life, McKee has raced the Iditarod in four different decades, completing a total of 22 races. He is one of only six mushers to win the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. He has also completed four Yukon Quest, 26 1,000-mile races, won two Kuskokwim 300 races, and received several awards for humanitarian work and the fastest time from Seif to Nome during the Iditarod.

"He loved the Iditarod, loved racing, thought it was so much fun", McKee says. "He really enjoyed all aspects of it, it brought him a lot of joy to participate in the Iditarod and to race with the sled dogs".

McKee's style of musher was to think in the moment, not to have a plan, but to feel the conditions of the route and the dogs, which inspired his family and others. He was a careful and conservative musher, always putting his dogs first.

McKee was known for his stunts on the Iditarod route: his daughter tells me that he once left his rabbit boots in the hut to make everyone think he was still there and hadn't left. This was before trackers even existed in the sport.

"I think it's important to honor these mushers and tell their story", McKee said. "They are the foundation of the whole history of this sport".

The Iditarod website states that Rick Maki was born May 1, 1953 in Concord, New Hampshire and joined his father Dick in Alaska in 1959 and then helped train for his first Iditarod race. He won the Iditarod dog sled race in 1983 and enjoyed racing with his father Dick and brothers Jason and Lance. Rick was married to his wife Patty for over 40 years and was the father of daughter Brenda and son Roland.

"It's unimaginable that he's gone", Brenda's message reads. "We've had almost 2 years of anticipation of grief, but as my grandfather said, it doesn't really do much to mitigate it".

Brenda and her family have received many messages about how Maki has impacted their lives.

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