Miles to Go
NH native in 10th place after first 350 cold, snowy miles in Iditarod
By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader | March 05. 2014 8:17PM
New Hampshire native Aliy Zirkle's team hits the trail in Alaska. She was in 10th place Wednesday in her 14th Iditarod race. (COURTESY)
Aliy Zirkle, who was born in Nashua and lived in Merrimack until age 8, was listed in 10th place in the race Wednesday afternoon. Zirkle has finished second in the race the last two years. She is trying to become the third woman in history to win the race across Alaska, and the first since the late Susan Butcher took home her fourth title in 1990.
The race started Sunday near Anchorage, and will finish sometime early next week — likely Tuesday or Wednesday — in the city of Nome, on Alaska's west coast. As of Wednesday, 11 mushers from a starting field of 69 competitors had dropped out, while race officials withdrew a 12th.
Zirkle grew up in St. Louis and Puerto Rico after her family left Merrimack. She enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in biology and anthropology. Zirkle discovered her love for running sled dogs when she headed to Alaska in 1990 at age 20 to count birds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to a brief biography posted at her sled dog team's online "dog blog."
Zirkle headed into the Iditarod fresh off her first-place finish in the 2014 Yukon Quest 300, finishing several miles ahead of the nearest competitor.
In 1973 the first Iditarod sled dog race was held, in part to commemorate the role sled dogs and the Iditarod trail played in the 1925 diphtheria outbreak in Nome, recounted in the famous stories of dogs Balto and Togo and the mercy dash carrying vaccines. This year Aliy is carrying 10 doses of the Tdap vaccine in her sled to Nome as part of an vaccines awareness campaign. Tdap is tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis vaccine, designed as a booster for patients age 7 and older. Tdap is also given to women during pregnancy to prevent disease in the mother and unborn child. Tdap vaccination is required by Alaska state law for students to attend public school.
"We are so happy for her to be out there," said Dr. Diane Richter, DVM, director of Compassion Hospital. "She enjoys it, and finds it to be a wonderful experience. We can't wait for her to get back and tell us all about it."