A long distance sled dog musher is a unique Alaskan personality.
The solitary, independent, wilderness lifestyle that Aliy fell in love 25 years ago has now ironically thrown her into the media spotlight. Through no act other than following her passion Aliy has become an Alaskan celebrity.
Aliy races SP Kennel’s Red Team. Every year since 1998 Aliy has raced either the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race or the 1,049 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She has reached the finish line every time. In the year 2000, Aliy won the Yukon Quest — “The World’s Toughest Sled Dog Race.” Following that win, she switched her focus to the Iditarod and has completed “The Last Great Race” seventeen consecutive years. Her best finish in the Iditarod is 2nd place — three years in a row! (2012, 2013 and 2014.)
Although her main priorities are the 1,000 mile marathon races, Aliy also competes in a number of short- and mid-distance races during the season. While she has had many successes in her dog mushing career, she has also had notable challenges.
Throughout Aliy’s career, she has been awarded numerous titles. Her most treasured awards are: the Yukon Quest’s “Spirit of the North Award” — awarded to her in 1999 — and the Iditarod’s Seppala “Vet Care Award” for supreme care of her dogs — awarded to her in 2005, 2011 and again in 2016.
Learning to Mush
In her early 20s, Aliy Zirkle moved to a small Alaskan town north of the Arctic Circle in order to work on Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge. The town of Bettles had a population of 35 people the summer she moved there. There are no roads leading to this tiny town. The only way to get there is airplane or boat in the summer and airplane, snowmobile, or dog team in the winter. She quickly fell in love with this remote and rugged Alaskan lifestyle.
Aliy was independent but wanted a companion, so she adopted a 9 year old Alaskan Husky named Skunk. They became best buddies. She soon found several more huskies. They became her first dog team: Skunk, Jack, Woody, Roller, Cedar, and Flood. That winter, she built a dog sled and began to explore the surrounding wilderness. Aliy and her team spent many nights camped under the Northern Lights together. Her first winter was tough – frostbite, blizzards, lost trails – but her immersion into this challenging lifestyle ingrained in her the essential skills and mindset that she uses in her career today.
While living in Bettles, Aliy entered her first race: the Christmas Race in Allakaket, an Indian village on the Koyukuk River 45 miles from Bettles. She enjoyed the competition and camaraderie. Aliy and her team traveled to and visited the surrounding villages many times over the years. She bought one of her most talented huskies, Fats, from a dog musher in Allakaket. Fats went on to be the primary stud and now, great grand dad, of many of SP Kennel racing dogs.
Aliy attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Her four years of study in biology and anthropology took her around the world; including to Alaska. While Penn molded Aliy into a globally minded individual, her heart belonged in Alaska.
Aliy has always been an athlete and an adventurer. While at Penn, Aliy played college volleyball and threw the hammer on the University’s Track and Field Team. The summer after graduation, she was invited to the 1992 US Olympic trials for the Hammer Throw. Later that summer and into fall, she and a good friend, MB, hiked the Appalachian Trail. They hiked from Maine to North Carolina. They ended their 2,000 mile hike after 4 1/2 months when winter snow storms and blizzard became the norm. Little did Aliy know… snowfall and blizzards would soon become a regular day for her.
Over the years, Aliy and Allen have donated their time, money and efforts to try and improve the community in which they live. Alaska is a vast country of compassionate and hard working people who face their share of modern social issues and problems.
Aliy has focused her commitments on projects primarily involved with the youth of Alaska– our world’s future leaders. She and Allen are often invited to do school programs, scout talks, and community lectures. Kids are easily excited about dogs, adventure, and competition, so dog mushing is a fun topic to teach around.
As well, Aliy has been involved with the Covenant House in Anchorage, the Girl Scout Encampment in Alaska, the Alaska Zoo, and various Women’s Shelters in and around the state.
SP Kennel is fortunate to be associated with individuals and companies who have similar community service missions:
– Matson and Aliy have been financially and personally involved with Lead ON! – a youth leadership and empowerment workshop. Matson and SP Kennel have also partnered in fundraising for the Covenant House in Anchorage. Aliy and Allen traveled to Dutch Harbor aboard the Kodiak D7 Class Containership to speak at a community event.
- Verizon and Aliy are joint supporters of AWAIC – Abused Women Aid in Crisis – in Anchorage. Aliy and Allen also visited Eagle River High School STEM eduction class and were there with Verizon as they presented scholarships to the students in the robotics club.
- Kennel supporter, Bob Huston, of Anchorage, has coordinated many of Aliy and Allen’s school visits and community presentations.
- Aliy and Allen are also involved with supporting our military. Thank you for your service!
Overall, the Alaskan community has been extremely good to Aliy over the years. The never ending cheer and enthusiasm during the good times, as well as the support during the bad times, has been overwhelming. Aliy can never repay her fans, supporters and sponsors for the positive energy that she uses to mush down the trail.
Family and Childhood
Aliy was born in New Hampshire, then spent her childhood in Puerto Rico and St. Louis, Missouri. She doesn’t claim a “hometown” and is now an Alaskan. Alaska, however, is an enormous state and Aliy still has many places in the Last Frontier yet to explore.
Aliy and Allen met over 20 years ago. They were married in 2004. SP Kennel is a joint effort that could not function without both Aliy and Allen’s complete focus, energy and commitment.
Aliy and Allen
Aliy with Mickey and Doug
Family has always been an important part of Aliy’s life. Mickey and Doug, her mother and father, have been supportive throughout her adventurous life. They have been involved with SP Kennel since the beginning. They have met Aliy at the finish line of most races and even flown out to remote spots along the trail. Their Alaskan residence is just down the trail from SP Kennel. Their Florida residence is quite a bit more distant. Aliy’s sister, Kaz, and her family also live just down the trail in Two Rivers. Allen’s two daughters, Jennifer and Bridgett, and their families live nearby and enjoy being part of SP Kennel as well. Aliy and Allen’s family is an ever growing and evolving collection of dynamic people.
Besides Alaskan husky sled dogs, Aliy is passionate about coffee. Her day always starts by grinding select coffee beans and brewing a morning cup. Her current favorite is a dark espresso roast, but she is not against tasting other blends.