Aliy Zirkle’s retirement letter

Aliy and her husband Allen have been members of Team Howling Dog for many, many years. We have been honored to have them on board, as we could not have asked for better representatives. As difficult and unimaginable it must be for Aliy and Allen at the moment, there is life after competitive mushing. I, Ivana (the owner of Howling Dog Alaska), know this well from my own experience. We wish you all the best on your new journey, Alliy & Allen! You will always be part of our team. This is a letter Aliy recently sent to us:

This spring, after I finish my 21st Iditarod, I will retire from competitive sled dog racing.
Yup. It’s big news for me and I thought you should know.

It might sound strange but, when I’m out there on the Iditarod standing on my sled runners all by myself, in the unpaved Alaska wilderness where wolves howl, ice cracks under my boots and the Arctic wind pierces even my thickest parka, I have never truly been alone. Yes, of course, I’ve had my amazing dogs, but I’ve also had you. You have meant a lot to me. You and many others like you. I’m not sure you can imagine the strength that I have gained from over 20 years of interaction with enthusiastic fans and friends like yourself. Do you know how much you have inspired and empowered me? So, obviously, I needed to thank you.

I don’t want you to think that I’m just up and quitting. My retirement has not been a quick decision. In truth, I know what it takes to be ultra-competitive. I have always raced the Iditarod to win. While the Last Great Race has been a spectacular adventure for me, it has also been physically and mentally demanding: every year, every winter, every day, every mile. And if I’m being honest, at times, I have been challenged to my very core. I know that in the not-so-distant future, I will not be able to give it my 100%. So, I am retiring before I have to retire.

What will I do with my Iditarod team of huskies? You needn’t worry. As you know, I began dog mushing because of my love for my dogs and my desire to spend endless days with them. I have done just that. Together, my dogs and I have raced over 30,000 miles. We have explored the winter wilderness of Alaska for decades together. Throughout my competitive life, I never gave up my values of deep love and respect for my dogs. These will be with me until my dying day. Dogs have been, and will always be, my life.

My post-Iditarod future is somewhat undecided. I love Alaska and will continue to explore our great state. Of course, my husband, Allen, and I will together decide what our next life adventure will be.

Will I miss it? I don’t know yet. But I do know that I will miss seeing you and the many individuals who have become part of my Iditarod life. The Last Great Race has brought me face-to-face with amazing and unique people across the state and from around the world.

Like you, wonderful people have reached out to me over the years. They have given me immense energy, passion, and spirit that has driven me to always, always do my best. There are so many people to thank. I’ll never forget the woman who approached me, several years ago, as I was signing autographs in the middle of a big crowd gathered in downtown Anchorage for the start of the Iditarod. With all the dogs and people crowded into the middle of 4th Avenue, I could barely hear her over the barking and cheering. People kept asking me for selfies and autographs. But she didn’t ask me for either. She gripped my arm and said, “Aliy, I need you to win.” I laughed and answered, “Yeah, I’m going to try to do exactly that.” She held my arm even tighter and said, “No, I need you to win. My boyfriend is always putting me down, and he says women can’t do things men can. I need you to
prove we can.” I’ve never forgotten these words. In fact, they travel with me, glowing brightly, everywhere I go.

I want you to know I will never forget you. But now, I need you to understand that while I hope I have proven to you that I can stand strong and tall and proud alongside any person, man or woman, you need to believe that you have the same power. I truly believe you have, inside yourself, everything you need to ride over the roughest trails in life, stand up in the worst storm, stare down any challenge and make it to your own finish line – wherever you decide to put that line.

Thank you for giving me so much support and riding along with me on my Iditarod adventures for the last 20 years. My Last Great Race starts in less than a month. I know you’ll be with me!

Always my best,


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