Updated: 4:45 p.m. Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle suffered a concussion and multiple other injuries after a "significant impact" on the Iditarod Trail en route to Rohn on Monday night and was airlifted to Anchorage for medical care.
According to Alaska Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Evan Budd, Zirkle sustained the injuries after a fall on the trail. Rohn is about 188 miles into the race.
Zirkle was in stable but guarded condition Tuesday, according to an Iditarod news release. She was released from the hospital Tuesday morning and was resting in Anchorage with family until they can drive back to their home. She officially scratched from the race on Monday.
Budd commended the Iditarod medical team for quickly identifying and stabilizing the musher’s injuries on scene and working with multiple agencies to transport the injured musher to Anchorage.
“The Iditarod is a world class event traversing through remote Alaska,” he said. “Their team did a great job ensuring medical aid is readily available along the trail, developing contingency plans and swiftly activating them.”
Zirkle had 14 dogs in harness when she arrived in Rohn. Her race team is uninjured and being cared for by volunteers at the Rohn checkpoint until they will flown to Anchorage and driven back home.
Zirkle and her husband Allen Moore, also an Iditarod veteran, run SP Kennel in Two Rivers. A note was posted to the kennel's website early Tuesday saying that communication with Rohn was spotty Monday and the family was heading to Anchorage.
“We are utterly devastated for Aliy and the dogs," the post said. "Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding as we process this information and find out more. This may take some time but we’ll keep you in touch. We also reiterate our thanks to everyone involved in caring for Aliy and her dogs, and those involved with the response."
This is Zirkle's 21st Iditarod, and she has said it would be her final race. She has finished in the top 10 seven times and was runner-up three years in a row. She also has won the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award a record six times. In 2000, Zirkle became the first, and so far only, woman to win the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
Forty-six mushers started the race Sunday afternoon at Deshka Landing. Minnesota musher Cindy Gallea scratched Monday at the Skwentna checkpoint due to non-COVID illness, according to race officials.
Tuesday, four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey was leading the field and was the first into McGrath. He arrived at 4 p.m. with 14 dogs in harness, winning the Alaska Air Transit Spirit of Iditarod Award.
Seavey was presented with the handmade prizes created by McGrath residents. Seavey received a pair of musher mittens made of beaver fur and moose hide handmade by Loretta Maillelle of McGrath. Originally from Anvik on the lower Yukon, Maillelle often shares her skin sewing and beading talents — as well as her delicious cooking — with the community, according to Iditarod officials. In addition, Seavey also received a musher hat made from beaver fur and beaded velvet made by Lucy Egrass of McGrath.
Other front-runners include Eureka's Brent Sass, Richie Diehl, 2018 champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom and 2019 champion Pete Kaiser. The Iditarod leaderboard only updates when mushers arrive or leave a checkpoint, so standings may change considerably depending on how long teams rest on the trail.
The leaders are about halfway through the 2021 "Gold Loop Trail" route, which will take them to the Iditarod checkpoint, then a loop around the nearby ghost mining town of Flat, before they retrace their steps to the finish line at Deshka Landing. The trail was re-routed to avoid contact with villages on the trail due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The race personnel and mushers are also operating under strict COVID protocols.
Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.