ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Four-time Iditarod champion and cancer survivor Lance Mackey has dropped out of next year's nearly 1,000-mile race for health reasons, organizers said Monday.
Mackey said in an email to the Iditarod Trail Committee that his withdrawal from the 2017 race across Alaska came with hopes to take better care of his health so he can be ready to compete again in 2018, marshal Mark Nordman told The Associated Press.
The email was sent Sept. 21, but the employee who handles that correspondence was out, and Mackey was officially withdrawn Monday, the same day the committee announced the withdrawal, Nordman said.
Mackey has continued to struggle with hand circulation problems that were partly blamed for him scratching from this year's race.
"He'll be missed for sure," Nordman said of Mackey's decision to sit out the next race.
Mackey could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mackey was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2001 and underwent extensive surgery as well as radiation treatment.
After returning to the sport, he went on to become the only musher ever to win both the Iditarod and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in the same year. It's a feat he has accomplished twice.
With Mackey opting out, just four current and former champions are signed up for next year's Iditarod.
Part of Mackey's huge appeal along the trail likely has as much to do with his outsized personality as his past wins.
Nordman noted the musher is a crowd favorite at village checkpoints along the trail and has also amassed a huge fan base.
"He's got that upbeat attitude," Nordman said. "But he realizes in order to take care of his dogs, he's got to have his health."
Follow Rachel D'Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro
This story has been corrected to say Mackey scratched from the Iditarod this year, not last year