Aliy Zirkle’s final appearance in the Iditarod came to an early end Monday night.
The veteran musher and fan favorite suffered a concussion and “orthopedic injuries to her upper torso” in a “significant impact” while coming into the Rohn checkpoint, race officials said Tuesday.
Zirkle was injured in a fall, according to a release from the Alaska National Guard on Tuesday morning. Her injuries were sustained on the glare ice along the Tatina River 5 miles out from the checkpoint.
Zirkle, 50, was out of the hospital and resting with family in Anchorage by Tuesday morning, waiting to travel back to her home in Two Rivers. Efforts to reach her Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Race marshal Mark Nordman said Zirkle was obviously injured when she came into the Rohn checkpoint, about 160 miles into the 852-mile race.
Nordman was in McGrath on Tuesday, shuttling between the airstrip and the McGrath Roadhouse, a squat yellow building that serves as the race’s logistics hub in that checkpoint community. Snowmachines and trucks passed as small-plane engines whined.
Race judge Karin Hendrickson, an Iditarod veteran not running the race this year, called Nordman after Zirkle pulled into Rohn, Nordman said. Hendrickson told him Zirkle was injured, “we’re working with her right now, we’re not sure what condition she’s in, I’ll get back to you.”
Then Hendrickson said it looked like Zirkle had a concussion, Nordman said. One of the race volunteers at Rohn is a nurse, and the decision was made to get her out as soon as possible.
”She was in a lot of pain,” Nordman said. “I think she just really slammed onto her upper torso is what I’m understanding, then probably the impact of her head hitting — whatever, we don’t know yet — but she got the dogs in, and they’re all safe, and she’s just trying to figure out how to get home.“
Zirkle scratched from the race at 8:05 p.m. Monday. About four hours later, a 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter picked her up at the Rohn Roadhouse and flew her to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
Zirkle was in stable but guarded condition before her release Tuesday morning, Iditarod officials said.
Zirkle had 14 dogs in harness when she arrived in Rohn, according to race officials. Her dogs weren’t hurt and were being cared for by volunteers at the checkpoint while awaiting the first flight out for Anchorage. From there, the dogs will be driven back home to Two Rivers.
Zirkle had announced her retirement from competitive mushing prior to this year’s Iditarod, her 21st. She and husband and fellow musher Allen Moore own and operate the SP Kennel in Two Rivers.
Moore was en route to Anchorage overnight, according to a Facebook post from the kennel.
“We will update you when we know more,” the post said. “We are utterly devastated for Aliy and the dogs. 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.”
ZIrkle is one of race’s most beloved racers, a three-time runner-up who has finished in the top 10 seven times.
Nordman called Zirkle’s accident a “big hit for everybody.”
She’s a fan favorite, he said. “But yeah, she’s a personal friend and this isn’t the way she wanted to go out. But she is happy that all her dogs are in good shape.”