Aliy Zirkle is no stranger to Western Alaska. But the seventeen-time Iditarod musher is usually traveling through the region behind her dogs on their way to Nome.
This week, Zirkle saw the communities of Golovin, Elim, and White Mountain in a way she’s never seen them before: without snow.
“I really wanted to see the folks that I see in the wintertime, and I wanted to see them on a little more of a slow it down and talk to people, sit down and drink coffee—we drank a lot of coffee—and do some stuff in the school.”
Zirkle visited schools in the three villages to share tales from her years on the Iditarod trail and to encourage students to find what they’re passionate about and use that to make positive change in their community.
White Mountain School’s principal David Fair was there to greet Zirkle when she landed.
“So I ran up to the airport, picked her up. There were probably fifty people all waiting. We set up a potluck, and then Wednesday she was in classrooms, brought some stuffed dogs, told some stories, and had some activities. I appreciate their coming out and spending time with kids and the community. It was a good time.”
Traveling along with Aliy were two organizers of the Lead On youth conference, which takes place in Anchorage in November and brings together student leaders from across the state. This year, scholarships are available for students from Golovin, Elim, and White Mountain to attend.
And while the students were excited to meet the musher, Zirkle says she was just as impressed by them:
“You know, there’s no reason why any of these kids from Golovin, Elim, White Mountain, any of the other villages around here, there’s no reason why one of those kids can’t be our future senator, or our future congressman, or leader of the world. They are awesome folks who’ve grown up, they’re tough, they’re savvy, you know, they’re proud. Man, there’s no holds barred. Those kids can do anything they want.”
Besides a very hearty thank you, Zirkle had just one more thing to add: “see you guys all in March,” she said with a chuckle.
Image at top: Aliy Zirkle at the Iditarod finisher’s banquet podium, 2014. Photo: David Dodman, KNOM, file photo.