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Dick Wilmarth, a miner who won the first-ever Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and then walked away from the sport, has died. He was 75.

Mr. Wilmarth died of complications from cancer on March 21, his daughter, Rebecca Wilmarth, said.

“He was our first champion, and he will be dearly missed,” Iditarod spokesperson Chas St. George said.

After winning the first Iditarod in 1973, Mr. Wilmarth never took part in the race again.

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In this 1973 photo, Dick Wilmarth poses on Bering Sea ice on the trail to Nome, Alaska.Henry Peck

He was once asked why he never raced again. “His response was very quick, and with a big smile, he said, ‘Cause I won,“’ Mr. St. George said.

“He moved on to doing new things and different things,” Mr. Wilmarth’s daughter added. “He liked to stay busy, and I think he figured one time was enough for him.”

Mr. Wilmarth was a 17-year-old Idaho logger who came to Alaska with his older brother, Larry, to fish out of Kodiak Island, Ms. Wilmarth said.

“Somebody recommended he head out west, there’s a lot of undiscovered territory out there,” she said.

He settled in Red Devil, Alaska, about 400 kilometres west of Anchorage, where he worked for a mine and learned how to fly planes. He also did some trapping as a younger man, and became interested in mushing dogs.

Mr. Wilmarth was 29 when he and his friend, Bob Vanderpool, first heard about plans for a 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometre) sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome.

“We thought that would be a pretty neat thing,” Mr. Wilmarth told The Associated Press in 2001.

He put a dog team together a few months before the race, swapping goods for dogs in Alaska native villages along the Kuskokwim River. He traded a .22-calibre rifle for a snowmobile, and then swapped that for five of his 12 dogs on the team.

The 1973 race began with 34 teams, and more than one-third of them never finished the race.

Along the trail, there was almost a mass exodus when the temperature dropped to minus 45.56 degrees. Some other mushers came to him during the night to talk about turning back. They wanted the decision to be unanimous, he said.

Mr. Wilmarth didn’t even let them finish: “I told them, ‘I’m going to go to Nome.“’

Today, mushers pack food and it’s flown to checkpoints along the trail, but that didn’t happen during the first Iditarod. Mr. Wilmarth told the Associated Press that to fight off hunger, he snared beaver for food and nearly fell into the Yukon River while trying to steal fish from a trap.

He pocketed US$12,000 for being the first musher to win the rugged race across Alaska. It took him 20 days and 49 minutes, more than twice as long as it takes for Iditarod mushers to complete the trek across the Alaska wilderness today.

“It was a little bit of a different deal back then,” Mr. Wilmarth said. “Things were a little rougher.”

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