DVIDS – News – Musher thanks Arctic Guardians for Iditarod rescue

When veteran sled dog musher Iditarod Aliy Zirkle woke up on March 8, she did not find herself in a comfortable bed. Instead, she woke up to the site of her dog team tangled in a tree springing from the frozen subarctic tundra.

Her right arm was attached to the sled by a surfboard leash, and it was evident that the dogs – laser-focused on their task of quickly covering the nearly 1,000 miles of race distance – had been dragging her for some time. .

When she tried to stand up, she quickly realized she was having issues and needed to get to the race’s Rohn Roadhouse checkpoint cabin about five miles from the trail.

“I remember thinking I was not normal, like something was going on,” she recalls. “And then I tried to get up and untangle [the dogs] of that tree, but I couldn’t use my whole right side. So I obviously thought I had broken something, or I wasn’t really sure. One thing I did know was that I knew I had to go to this cabin.

For years people have asked her if she was scared participating in what is called the last big race, and for years she said no. His event within 200 miles of the 2021 race changed that.

“I can honestly say that was the only time I was scared, which is not easy to admit,” she said.

Fearing in the midst of her predicament, Zirkle would be saved thanks to her courage, her dogs, the cabin of the Rohn Roadhouse, and the Alaska National Guardsmen who came to see her on the rotors of an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter.

Recognition debt
Zirkle – along with her husband Allen Moore, Iditarod Race Director Mark Nordman and personal friends – came to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska on June 28, 2021, to express his gratitude and share his poignant story. with the airmen of 176 Wing who rescued her.

“I stand here quite grateful to be here,” she said. “I ran the Iditarod for 21 consecutive years. Before this year, I would stand in front of you and say, ‘I have started the Iditarod 20 times, and I have completed the Iditarod 20 times.’ “

This record unfortunately ended in the Dalzell Gorge, known for the rapid river waters that cut through the ice and create dangerous track conditions.

“I don’t know what happened,” Zirkle said. “Somehow my sled – which has plastic at the bottom of the runners – sort of got sideways, I think, and the dogs were probably traveling 8, 9, 10, 11 miles a day. hour, and I imagine there was a boulder in the ice – something in the ice – that rocked my whole sled, and I guess they said I hit my head here, ”he said. she said, pointing to the base of the back of her head.

Zirkle said the rest of the day was a blur and she can’t remember how she got to the Rohn Roadhouse. She recalls that race officials spoke about her injuries, although she mistook their chatter for a conversation about an injured dog.

“Oh shit, I hope this dog is doing well,” she recalls, thinking to herself. “I was almost crying because I was worried about this dog.”

Zirkle’s lifeline would be an HH-60 and the crew of the 210th Rescue Squadron and the 212th Rescue Squadron Para-rescuers sent by the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center to JBER. Once there, Para-rescuers stabilized Zirkle, dealt with her considerable pain, and evacuated her to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage to be handed over to civilian medical professionals.

Zirkle said the experience allowed him to fully appreciate how the rescue triad of the 210th, 211st and 212th Rescue Squadrons serves Alaska by providing civilian search and rescue.

“I think we realize, especially looking at the [Anchorage Daily News] and various front page news articles, it hits you personally about everything you do for the state / country, ”she said. “Sometimes you don’t realize how affected you are by another group of people until you are personally affected by this group of people, so I intended to come here to humbly express my gratitude to you. . “

Lessons from the trail
After 21 years of fighting for sled dog racing glory, Zirkle said she is retiring and has run her last race. Across more than 20,000 miles of the Iditarod, she said she learned a lot from the competition.

“It’s interesting; the Iditarod is like life,” she said. “You never know what’s on the next corner. Sometimes it’s super easy, and you skate in a bit. Kind of like, “Oh, where’s the next bump?” And sometimes that throws you into the biggest curve of your life, and you’re like, “Wow, I wonder if I could get up and go again.”

Although Zirkle has placed second on three occasions, she has never won the Iditarod. After braving a raging blizzard in the 2014 race, taking refuge in safety near the finish line and falling asleep for a 30-minute nap, she finished second that year by a margin. 2 minutes, 22 seconds to the leader.

Although she missed the win with a mustache, the musher said she was more than happy with her racing career.

“People were like, ‘What regrets do you have about your career at Iditarod, your shopping, your life choices?’ Zirkle explained. “And I’m going to tell you here and now, I don’t have one.” Everything I have done I have done with pride, with effort and with intention.

At the end of the meeting, the event coordinator, Senior Master Sgt. Corey Ercolani, 210th Rescue Squadron, expressed appreciation for Zirkle’s frankness and shared the lessons learned.

“I want to thank you for coming,” he said. “I really appreciate this.”

Zirkle beamed with a smile and retaliated, stunned by the hospitality of the unit that rescued him.

“You don’t have to thank me!”

Date taken: 06/30/2021
Date posted: 06/30/2021 22:12
Story ID: 400160
Location: JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, AK, USA

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