Disclaimer! This post is a BIG ONE!! As many of you know, my family & I go on an annual trek out to the North Woods of Wisconsin each year in February. My father-in-law started doing this cross country ski marathon, called the "American Birkebeiner" back in the late 90's, and about 5 years ago my husband Keith decided to go out and do it with him!
The story of that 1st "Birkie" trip is lengendary, and perhaps someday I will post about it...(suffice it to say, our 3rd child, Bella, was 2 months old, the older 2 kids got totally sick the day we arrived, enter a blizzard, husband leaves to go "up north" with his Dad...leaving me with the infant and sick children, got lost driving up north, once at the remote cabin, our middle daughter throws up in her sleeping bag, drive 2 hours away to laundromat to clean aforementioned sleeping bag, sub-zero temps, and virtually no sleep, due to aforementioned infant daughter... you get the picture!)
ANYWAY - subsequent years have greatly improved and this year was by far the BEST! All three of our kids participated in the Barnebirkie (the kids races), and I got an unprecedented opportunity to photograph many of the events that took place during the 3 days of this amazing event. The images below represent my attempt at a photo essay encapsulating this very special year - the 40th Anniversary of the American Birkebeiner! I truly hope it gives you all a feel for this unique race. The sense of community that can be felt during an event that includes literally thousands of people is hard to explain, but I believe these images may give you a sense of it. At least, That what I'm hoping for!
The Barnebirkie - kids races 1K, 3K and 5K
Our Son, Caleb. His first year doing the skate skiing rather than the classic! He loved it and did very well in his race. There were over 1100 kids skiing the Barnie, and probably 400 or so doing the 3K (which is what Caleb did). He came in among the top 20 in his race. Not too shabby buddy!!
A gorgeous sunny day in Hayward.
Oh my gosh...how cute are these twins?!!
Something really special... you'll notice in the images below: there are several handicapped kids who did the Barnebirkie in sit-skis! Super inspiring!!
The Hayward Highschool Cross Country Ski team always skiis the flags representing all the countries out at the beginning of the Barnebirkie.
LOTS of mini Birkebeiners...and the official Birkebeiners and Queen Inga (Prince Haakon's mother) played this year by
here's a little note about the legend that is the basis for the Birkebeiner:
The Birkie was named after the Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet, which commemorates an important historical event. In 1206 a group of Birkebeiner party soldiers, who fought for Sverre Sigurdsson and his descendants in the Norwegian civil war, smuggled the illegitimate son of Norway's King Håkon Sverresson from Lillehammer to safety in Trondheim. In the Norwegian Birkie, skiers still carry packs symbolizing the weight of an 18-month-old child. The packs also contain extra food, clothing and survival gear to protect against unexpected weather changes in the harsh sub-Arctic mountains that the skiers cross during the race.
plenty of colorful outfits!
My girls...coming in to the finish line!!
The Elite Sprints:This is an event I have never watched in previous years. We normally leave right after the Barnebirkie. But this year, I stayed in town on my own and had the chance to see these world class athletes compete! Below is an image of Caitlin Compton Gregg...winner of last years Birkie (for the women), and yes - winner of this year's too!! She won this year's with a time of 2:28.56. Amazing! She came in 3rd in the Sprints featured below and is just an overall amazing competitor.
Martina Stursova...second place finisher for the women.
Some really tight races. These were so exciting to watch!!
The Giant Ski. Again, an event I had never had the joy of seeing before. And may I just say - HILARIOUS!! The idea here as you will see, is to have a team of 4-6 people, all strapped in to 2 GIANT skis! Working together as a team, they move the skis forward and race against other teams. Let's just say, not much time goes by before someone is falling down. And heaven forbid it's the poor soul on the back of the skis...'cause it might be a while before the rest of the team realizes, and meanwhile...you're being dragged down Main Street!! Ahhh...good Nordic FUN!
I do believe this was the first year for this particular event. And if anyone cares about my opinion - it was MY FAVORITE!!! The idea here was to have folks come out dressed in the old-time ski apparel: nikkers and colorful sweaters, and the like. Also, you had to ski on the old wooden skis. No fancy Salomon or Swix here, thank you! Well, seeing as it was the 1st year, I heard organizers feared a low turn out. But in typical Nordic fashion, scads of folks came out clad in the most fantastic outfits, ready for 5K worth of a great time!! Check them out!
Queen Inga came out to join the Nikkerbeiners!
And here, perhaps my favorite moment of all...As this adorable gentleman crossed the finish line, the announcer introduced him: George Hovland, Jr. He represented our country in the 1952 Olympic Games in Oslo, Norway!!
He is a four-time Central USSA four-event champion (jumping, cross-country, slalom, and downhill) He has completed in every Birkebeiner with the exception of the first one. and has been the age group winner approximately ten times!
And - he is 88 years old.
Everyone gathered around George and wanted to shake his hand, pose for pictures, etc. He could not have been more gracious! The top image below, I believe, is his wife. Salt of the earth!!
The Opening Ceremonies and Torch Lighting
The 40th Annual American Birkebeiner,(50K Skate, 54K Classic)
Kortelopet,(26K) and Prince Haakon (12K)
Cross country Ski Races
Telemark Lodge. This is where it all begins. You drive to Telemark and PRAY you get into one of the parking lots. From there you hop on big yellow school buses and get bused up to the lodge. Not done yet. Disembark the buses and you still have a 20 minute hike to the start line. All I can say is Thank you Lord...it was 28 degrees this year. Last time I did this - it was 12 below!! Yeah - BELOW. For a girl who serious dislikes the cold - that was not fun!
hiking to the Start...
What a cute little trooper!
The Start Line! We got here just in the nick of time. I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off for about 5 minutes until I finally found Keith who was about ready to take off. The skiers go off in waves. He was in the 4th wave. The 3rd had already left and there were literally minutes left to go when this pic was taken!
running up to his spot... skis get on...last minute adjustments... and they're gone!
At this point, I'm waiting for my brother-in-law, Jason, to go. He raced in the Prince Haakon race...a 12K. There's about an hour between Keith's departure and his, so I just hung out at the start line and captured the following images - a real "slice of life" of the Birkie! All ages, shapes, sizes... it's AWESOME!
Simply Stunning!! Mystifying. His bib is a Birkie bib...the full 50k. And he has one arm. I am in awe!
The "Gatekeeper," so to speak. He stood at the opening to the start line letting skiers in, but was very sweet to let me go in and kiss my hubby before he left! Thanks Guy in the Awesome hat!!
Jason's turn! My niece, Hannah, carries her Dad's skis for him. The Hannah and Chloe ran to the announcers table and gave him a sweet send off over the loud speaker!
The Finish! Just imagine. 15,000 spectators lining both sides of small town Main Street in Hayward. Hundreds of cowbells ringing...lots of cheering..absolute craziness! :)
Here's the thing about the finish that is so great... just like at the start line, you really see all kinds. And you see their stories. The "Birch-leggers" who've been doing it for 30 years, the mother who just gave birth 6 months ago and carries her babe across the finish, the paraplegic who muscles his way across the line on his sit-ski. It's moving. Inspiring. Wonderful!
Top image - my father-in-law, Gerry...coming in for the finish!!
The American Birkebeiner 2013
40 years Strong!
I hope you enjoyed this photo essay as much as I enjoyed creating it!