NOME, Alaska -Aliy Zirkle, C'92, one of the top throwers in Penn women's track & field history, finished second at the 2012 Iditarod on March 14. Zirkle nearly became the first woman in two decades to win the sled dog race across Alaska.
"Aliy was one of the most amazing young athletes I have ever worked with," said Tony Tenisci, her throws coach at Penn. "She came across from the volleyball team and had no previous history in the throwing events. But within a year, she was one of the finest throwers in the Ivy League as well as nationally. In her senior year she was ranked 13th in the nation and just missed making the Olympic Trials in the hammer.
"Aliy is such an amazing young woman -- fearless, hard working, generous, fun loving, and above all very competitive. I am so thrilled to see her achieve these amazing goals in her adult life. She has always embodied the best qualities of Penn Athletics."
Zirkle, 41, finished the 1,000-mile race in nine days, five hours, 29 minutes and 10 seconds. She was just an hour behind 25-year-old winner Dallas Seavey. The last woman to win the Iditarod was Susan Butcher in 1990.
The race began on March 4 with 66 teams, and Zirkle led through several checkpoints. She was the first to arrive in Unalakleet -- about 200 miles from the finish -- which earned her a gold cup and $2,500 in gold nuggets as the first to make it to Alaska's western coast.
The USA Today noted Unalakleet as "the friendly town along the coast where excited children greet the mushers as if they were rock 'n' roll stars, asking questions about the dogs and trying to get autographs." Zirkle's arrival was well-received. The USA Today also noted that the former Quaker was "known for her big smile and exemplary dog care along the trial."
While at Penn, Zirkle set the school record in the weight throw, and she remains one of just four Quakers to reach 16 meters in the event. Her record-setting toss of 16.04 meters (52 feet, 7 1/2 inches) stood for six years and still ranks as fourth-best all-time.
In addition, Zirkle also graduated with the second-best hammer throw in program history. Twenty years later, her personal record toss of 47.32 (155-03 ft.) still ranks sixth in the school record book.
Zirkle, who finished 11th at the 2011 Iditarod, is a resident of Two Rivers, Alaska. She graduated from Penn in 1992 with degrees in biology and anthropology. She spent time in Alaska as an undergraduate and returned there upon graduating to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.