ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — One of dog mushing's leading figures has suffered panic attacks and undergone therapy in the year since she was stalked by a drunken snowmobile driver on an isolated stretch of the Iditarod race across Alaska.
"I had a really hard time this first half of the season, a really hard time," musher Aliy Zirkle told The Associated Press on Friday.
Zirkle, who has five straight top-five finishes in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, plans to run in this year's race, which starts next week.
"I feel like I should tell people, 'Yeah, I'm going back out there,' but I wish I could say I was fine. But there will be some struggles out there," she said.
Arnold Demoski was given a six-month sentence for driving a snowmobile at four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King and Zirkle in separate attacks on March 12 near the village checkpoint in Nulato, Alaska. One of King's dogs, Nash, was killed, and other dogs were injured.
Demoski pleaded guilty to felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor charges of assault, reckless endangerment and driving under the influence.
"Over the course of almost two hours, one man, by using his snowmachine, made prolonged, aggressive and what I believe to be deliberate threats to me and my team," Zirkle said in a statement just days after the attack last year. Snowmachines are what Alaskans call snowmobiles.
"I was terrified. Had it not been for my defensive reactions, we could have been maimed or killed," she said in the statement.
The fear carried over well after the race ended, Zirkle told the AP, and she didn't realize it would have such an effect on her. "It's one of those weird things that it's in your head, that you didn't think was actually going to be there," she said.
Seeing snowmachines, especially soon after the attack was "a pretty bad deal," she said.
But she is learning to control the panic with the help of her husband, musher Allen Moore. They decided to have her start going to therapy last summer, and that has helped.
"The last race I was on, a couple of snowmachines came by and I made it," she said, adding in her characteristic laugh.
The Iditarod will have its ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 4, and the actual start will be held two days later in Fairbanks. Low-snow conditions in the Alaska Range forced the official start from the Anchorage area.
Zirkle didn't anticipate being back in Nulato so soon. The nearly thousand-mile race alternates between northern and southern routes every year. Nulato is part of the northern route, and it wasn't scheduled to be included in this year's race until the start was moved to Fairbanks.
"I'm not looking forward to this route, I have to be honest about that," Zirkle said.
After last year's attacks, the Iditarod changed its rules to allow mushers to carry two-way communication devices during the race.
Zirkle will carry a satellite phone sewn into her parka, providing, if nothing else, assurance. "Whether I ever use it or not, it doesn't really matter," she said.
The 47-year-old New Hampshire native said she has no problems being outside in minus 55 degree temperatures or going on a two-week camping trip in a blizzard with only two dogs to accompany her in the Alaska wilderness. "I'm kind of that hard-core, tough musher gal," she said.
What's more difficult after the attack is reassuring another part of herself.
"It's hard to convince this other, this 'Protective Aliy' that exists, that it's not going to happen again, cause she's ready to kick some fanny if it does, and she's a little sensitive," said Zirkle, who once broke another woman's arm during an arm-wrestling contest at a bar near the Iditarod finish line in Nome.
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