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‘Thank you Alaska’: Aliy Zirkle prepares for her final Iditarod and life after sled dog racing

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 6:54 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will be Aliy Zirkle’s final race.

The fan-favorite will retire from competitive sled dog racing after the 49th Iditarod. She made the retirement announcement on her kennel’s website in February sharing a letter written to a friend.

“I wrote that letter from the heart,” Zirkle said. “I said some things that I meant, obviously it struck more people to their heart than the original intent.”

The legendary musher is the only woman to ever win the Yukon Quest and has only finished outside of the Iditarod top 10 twice since 2012. Even though it will be Zirkle’s last Iditarod, she still wants to win the race.

“The last chance I have to beat Dallas Seavey, to beat Nic [Petit], to beat Aaron Burmeister, to beat Martin Buser that’s how I’m looking at it,” Zirkle said. “This year 2021 is a race for me.”

A hallmark of Zirkle’s career has been her connection with her fans, often one of the most popular mushers at the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage with fans huddled around her team before the race.

“I’m surprised as heck that I’ve become a celebrity, that people appreciate me as much as they do,” Zirkle said.

This popularity was never the goal when she adopted six dogs and began mushing in the small town of Bettles, Alaska. Her career hasn’t been without issues, still searching for her first Iditarod victory after three runner-up finishes.

“When you stand up after a beat down don’t you feel better than if you won?” Zirkle said. “If I won every single race and came across the finish line, it’d be great, and I’d be high and mighty. There would be no issues in my life.”

Her resilience has resonated with fans even during the darkest moments of her career. In 2016, Zirkle and her team were struck by a drunk snowmachiner on the trail. Since then, she’s been open about the mental health impacts it left — and that she’s sought professional help to get through it.

“This woman in this shopping cart told me ‘just what you said when you had to talk to a therapist after the attack,’ she said I’m glad you said that,” Zirkle said.

Hearing that her experience has inspired others has shown Zirkle that even out on the trail, she’s not alone.

“When I’m out there with my dogs going through trials and tribulations in the wilderness, I’m not alone, I hope everyone realizes that,” Zirkle said. “I’m glad you got my back because for 20 years I’ve felt you back there, it’s meant a lot so thank you Alaska.”

As for plans after retirement, Zirkle plans to spend time with her husband Allen Moore who also retired from mushing recently. She also plans on remaining involved with sponsors like Matson and will continue to be involved with community outreach throughout the state.

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