Aliy Zirkle and the great Iditarod

RCYC ACADEMY REPORT – by Lindani Mchunu

The age old question of whether one competes to win or overcome, is still very much open to interpretation. Aliy moved to Bettles, Alaska at the age of twenty and began mushing due to the remote nature of the town. She adopted six sled dogs and began learning how to race and train dogs. In the year 2000 she became the first woman to win the Yukon Quest. She has been the runner-up in the Iditarod three consecutive years, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Aliy has finished the Iditarod 14 times and the Yukon 3 times, she has completed either the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod every year since 1998. She not only competes with her dogs but also has a shelter for dogs, which need care. She has been exemplary in how she treats her race dogs and goes above and beyond to make sure they receive the utmost care and never pushes them beyond their limits. Aliy has been competing in this great Alaskan race for over 20yrs and has not won a single race, even though in one of the races she was run down several times by a deranged attacker, who was drunk and wanted to run her and her dogs into the river. Injuring and killing some of the dogs.

What drives a human being to keep coming back for more over a 20 year period? What motivates a woman in a male dominated sport to walk alone and endure the most severe elements known to man? What inspires such a pursuit? In my mind, it can only be the fact that society insists that you cannot do it. It can only be the fact that there is a systemic undertone that looms over your self-determination, a ceiling that is put over you and you are told without actually being told that you will never reach this high. The human spirit in whatever shape of form yearns to be free. It yearns to express itself and in doing so unravel all the layers of the human experience. Aliy yearns for the trail, with herself and her dogs and the path laid out in front of her. I doubt she even cares how far the finish line might be, she just yearns for the trail. The trail is where freedom lies, the trail is where challenge brings out the best in her and the trail is where she becomes one with her Dogs and the elements. I believe in her mind she understands that to finish anything is to begin another thing. I take strength and courage from such a story, 20 years and she has never won the great Iditarod race. Yet as I write these words she is probably preparing for the next race. Such a human being can never know defeat because for them, it is not about a position on a podium it is about the trail that lies ahead. Which has no finish line but an endless path of self-development.

This is what I wish and hope for in our academy. I hope our kids get inspired by the sprawling sea, which seems to go on for eternity, with no horizon, no beginning nor end. I hope they get inspired to break the ceilings imposed over their destinies by society because of the colour of their skin, their social class, where they live, what school they come from, what gender they are. I hope they come here, get on a boat, see the waters of Table Bay and say to themselves, anything is possible no matter what challenges I will encounter along the way. For this thing called life is an infinite race, passed on from one generation to the other and all I am here to do, is do my part.

I dedicate this article to all human beings in the world. Here in South Africa it is human right’s day, tomorrow on the 20th of March. In my blood runs a strong conviction of the rights of all people, maybe because I was raised by a human rights lawyer, who still to this day is a democracy consultant. It is of course a silly notion to imagine a world where all human beings are treated equal and merit is the order of the day. Yet one cannot do nothing just because the system is rigged. If you are able to but change

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