FAIRBANKS — Winning the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race would have been sweet for Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle, but bringing home the award for the best dog care in the 1,100-mile race was even sweeter.
“In my world there’s no higher prize,” said Zirkle, who finished 11th. “I’d love to win, but more than that I love to have a happy, healthy dog team at the finish.”
Zirkle was presented the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award at the Iditarod awards banquet Sunday night in Nome. The award is presented to the top-20 musher who best demonstrates outstanding dog care while remaining competitive. The winner is selected by race veterinarians.
Sunday’s banquet marked the official end of the 39th Iditarod. All 47 mushers who finished the race were saluted for their efforts, and the top 30 finishers split a $528,000 purse. Prizes ranged from the $50,400 first-place check John Baker of Kotzebue took home to the $1,500 check 30th-place finisher Kelly Maxiner received.
The remaining 17 finishers each received a check for $1,049. All first-time finishers received a custom-made Iditarod finisher’s belt buckle, and all 47 finishers were presented with an official finisher’s patch.
For the 41-year-old Zirkle, who won $20,100, it was the second time she has earned the race’s coveted dog care award. She also won the award in 2005, when she finished 11th.
“When I go out there and race, my priority is to keep the dogs together,” she said by cell phone from Nome.
Zirkle finished the race with 11 of the 16 dogs she started with, posting a career-best time of 9 days, 10 hours, 22 minutes and 31 seconds as she passed below the famed burled arch on Nome’s Front Street.
Zirkle’s 11th-place finish matched the best finish of her 11 Iditarods. However, her time this year was almost eight hours faster.
Zirkle dropped five dogs in the first 500 miles of the race. She kept the remaining 11 dogs the rest of the way.
“I had a nice group of dogs,” said Zirkle, who in 2000 became the first woman to win the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. “They weren’t a veteran squad by any means; they were kind of new kids on the block with a few veterans mixed in.
“I raced them pretty hard, but they certainly had a lot left in the tank in the end,” she said. “I guess that’s what the vets saw.”
Not surprisingly, Baker, who set a new record by finishing in 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds, took home several awards.
In addition to a first-place check of $50,400 and a 2011 Dodge Ram, Baker also won the award for being the first musher to reach the Bering Sea coast, which was worth $2,500 in gold nuggets.
Two of Baker’s lead dogs, Snickers and Velvet, shared the golden harness award that goes to the race’s outstanding lead dog, as voted by other mushers. Baker’s two main leaders helped him set a pace that cut four hours off the race record held by Martin Buser.
Zirkle wasn’t the only local musher to win a prestigious award at Sunday’s finish banquet.
Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, the only five-time champion in Iditarod history, was chosen by fellow racers as the most inspirational musher after breaking his collarbone early in the race and still finishing in 20th place for a record 32nd finish.
The 60-year-old Swenson broke the bone on the notorious Happy River Steps, a series of steep switchbacks between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass.
Swenson accepted his award and his $8,100 paycheck with his arm in a sling.
Zirkle’s kennel partner and husband, Allen Moore, won the Sportsmanship Award for coming to the aid of fellow musher Karin Hendrickson, whose team had stalled outside the village of Golovin, less than 100 miles from the finish.
Hendrickson, who was wet with sweat after running over hills between Elim and Golovin, was on the verge of hypothermia when Moore came upon her. She had attempted to get in her sleeping bag but had pulled it up only to her knees.
Moore got Hendrickson walking and drinking fluids. He then hitched her reluctant team to his sled and towed the team into White Mountain, about 20 miles away.
Hendrickson eventually scratched from the race, while Moore went on to finish 24th. Moore said he probably lost three places — equaling $2,400 — when other mushers passed him while he stopped to aid Hendrickson, but that wasn’t important.
“The race didn’t matter, because if she falls asleep out there in that wind you could die easily,” said Moore, who earned $4,800. “It wouldn’t have mattered if I finished 20 places lower.”
Moore also won the Sportsmanship Award in this year’s Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, which he completed three weeks before the Iditarod.
Fairbanks musher Lance Mackey, the four-time defending champion, received a small consolation prize by winning the award for being the top 20 musher who posted the fastest time from Safety to Nome.
Despite having only seven dogs remaining in his team, Mackey, who won $500, clocked a time of 2 hours, 25 minutes on the final 22-mile section of trail, which was six minutes faster than his neighbor, ninth-place finisher Ken Anderson.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.
PenAir Spirit of Alaska Award
Criteria: First musher into McGrath.
Prize: Original “Spirit Mask” created by Bristol Bay artist Orville Lind and a $500 credit on PenAir.
Winner: Martin Buser
GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award
Criteria: First musher to reach halfway checkpoint.
Prize: Trophy and $3,000 in gold nuggets.
Winner: Trent Herbst
Millennium Hotel Anchorage Alaskan First To the Yukon Award
Criteria: First musher to arrive at Yukon River.
Prize: A seven-course dinner cooked on a Coleman stove and $3,500 in one-dollar bills as the “after dinner mint.”
Winner: Hugh Neff
Wells Fargo Bank Alaska Gold Coast Award
Criteria: First musher to the reach the Bering Sea Coast in Unalakleet.
Prize: Trophy and $2,500 in gold nuggets
Winner: John Baker
Nome Kennel Club Fastest Time from Safety to Nome Award
Criteria: Top-20 musher with fastest time from Safety to Nome.
Winner: Lance Mackey
Horizon Lines Most Improved Musher Award
Criteria: Musher who has bettered his/her most recent finish by the most number of places.
Prize: Engraved trophy plus $2,000
Winner: Trent Herbst
Jerry Austin Rookie of the Year Award
Criteria: Top rookie who has never started the race.
Prize: $2,000 and trophy
Winner: Nicolas Petit
Fred Meyer Sportsmanship Award
Criteria: Chosen by mushers.
Prize: Engraved trophy and a $500 Fred Meyer gift certificate.
Winner: Allen Moore
ExxonMobil Mushers Choice Award
Criteria: Most inspirational on the trail, as chosen by fellow mushers.
Prize: Iditarod Limited Edition Gold Coin, valued at $3,300. The 1.25-oz, 24-carat gold coin is surrounded by a 39 mm gold chain rope and set on a black walnut mount
Winner: Rick Swenson.
Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award
Criteria: Chosen by staff and officials as the person who most closely mimics “Herbie, The Shismaref Cannonball” in attitude on the trail.
Prize: Free freight allotment on Northern Air Cargo and a walrus ivory scrimshawed trophy, plus $1,049 in “pocket change” inside of a NAC jacket.
Winner: Paul Johnson
Northern Air Cargo Four-wheeler Award
Criteria: A new four-wheeler is given to a musher who has finished the race, and whose key, which is chosen randomly by the mushers, starts the four-wheeler as they approach the stage at the finish banquet.
Winner: Pete Kaiser
Golden Clipboard Award
Criteria: Presented by race officials to the most outstanding checkpoint.
Golden Stethoscope Award
Criteria: Presented by the Iditarod Official Finishers Club (IOFC) to the veterinarian whom they feel was the most helpful on the trail.
Prize: A plaque.
Winner: Dr. Samantha Yeltatzie D.V.M.
Iditarod Trail Committee Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award
Criteria: Based on specific criteria to determine which top-20 musher has best demonstrated outstanding dog care throughout the race while remaining competitive.
Prize: Glass etched trophy and a free entry fee for the 2012 Iditarod.
Winner: Aliy Zirkle
City of Nome Lolly Medley Golden Harness Award Winner
Criteria: Goes to an outstanding lead dog, as chosen by the mushers.
Prize: Embroidered gold harness
Winner: Champion John Baker’s lead dogs, Velvet and Snickers.
Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep Official Truck
Criteria: Presented to the Iditarod winner.
Prize: 2011 Dodge Ram 4 x 4 quad-cab pickup
Winner: John Baker
Wells Fargo Winner’s Purse
Criteria: Presented to the Iditarod winner
Winner: John Baker
Wells Fargo Red Lantern
Criteria: Presented to the last musher to finish
Prize: A trophy made from a red lantern.
Winner: Ellen Halverson