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March 11. 2014 7:45PM

2nd again

Former NH resident Aliy Zirkle takes second in Iditarod


Second-place finisher for the third year in a row, Aliy Zirkle talks with reporters after completing the Iditarod dog sled race in Nome, Alaska Tuesday. (REUTERS/Nathaniel Wilder)

Sled dog racer Aliy Zirkle can't shake the Seavey family — or second place.

The former Merrimack resident's decision to seek shelter in a windstorm at the last checkpoint in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday night allowed eventual race winner, Dallas Seavey, to claim the title in the race's second-closest finish ever.

For the third straight year, Zirkle finished behind a member of the same Alaska family, but she has been gaining on the Seavey men each year.

Zirkle, who was born in Nashua and lived in Merrimack until age 8, finished second by 2 minutes and 32 seconds — less time than it takes the average person to go through a fast-food drive-thru.

On Monday night, poor weather forced Zirkle to stop with her 10 dogs for more than two hours at the Safety checkpoint, while eventual race winner, Dallas Seavey, stayed for a mere three minutes, resulting in Zirkle giving chase, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Zirkle left there 19 minutes after Seavey did in an attempt to chase him down in the race's final 22 miles.

"I was worried about Dallas," Zirkle told the Alaska newspaper. "I was worried about everybody behind me."

She decided to stay in Safety after getting reports that the strong winds had flipped sleds and conditions were worsening.

"What's a gal to do?" she asked.

Zirkle, who now lives in Alaska, finished behind winner Dallas Seavey of Willow, Alaska, who made it in record time.

Seavey's father, Mitch, beat Zirkle by 24 minutes last year. And in 2012, Dallas Seavey finished ahead of Zirkle by an hour.

Zirkle and her canine team covered the roughly 1,000-mile course in eight days, 13 hours, 6 minutes and 41 seconds.

She had led the race, which runs from Anchorage to Nome, over the weekend but couldn't hold it.

The closest finish happened in 1978 when Dick Mackey beat Rick Swenson by one second.

Mike Ellis, a former 25-year resident of Rumney, remained on the course in 37th place Tuesday.

Zirkle won applause from Diane Richter, owner of Compassion Veterinary Hospital in Bradford, who has an employee working the race.

"That's fantastic," Richter said.

"It's such a marathon for the dogs and there's so many things that can go right and so many things that can go wrong," she said.

Richter said Dr. Lori Baldwin, a veterinarian from her hospital is working for the second straight year at a checkpoint to help handle any health issues with the dogs.Baldwin can't be reached by cellphone or email, according to Richter.

"We're talking off the grid," Richter said. "That is a true vacation from life if you know what I'm saying."

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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