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NH native in 10th place after first 350 cold, snowy miles in Iditarod
New Hampshire native Aliy Zirkle's team hits the trail in Alaska. She was in 10th place Wednesday in her 14th Iditarod race. (COURTESY)
A woman with ties to New Hampshire spent Wednesday listed among the top 10 mushers in the 975-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska.
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.
Another musher with ties to the Granite State, Mike Ellis — a former 25-year resident of Rumney — was in 41st place as of Wednesday afternoon.
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.
Sonny Lindner was listed as leading the race, and was first to leave the Ophir checkpoint, more than 600 miles from the finish line.
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 began running dogs in Bettles, just north of the Arctic Circle, where she handled a six-dog team. Her first competition was a small event in a Koyukuk River village; after that, she was hooked on racing. She returned to college, finished her degree in 1992 and then moved back to Alaska.
When she moved to Two Rivers, Alaska, she met and married Allen Moore, and together they operate SP Kennels.
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.
The defending Iditarod champion, Mitch Seavey, beat Zirkle to the finish in Nome by 24 minutes last year. Mitch's son, Dallas, beat Zirkle by an hour in 2012.
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.
Ellis, another musher with ties to New Hampshire, moved to Alaska in 2007. Ellis, a former employee at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, caught the mushing bug in 1993 after helping with a New Hampshire team returning from the Yukon Quest race.
A veterinarian from Compassion Veterinary Hospital in Bradford, Dr. Lori Baldwin, VDM, is also in Alaska for the Iditarod, working as a trail veterinarian for the second straight year.
"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."
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race can be followed online at www.iditarod.com.
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