BjornDaehlieOfMahtomedi, my kayak, ski, and adult beverage buddy, is on his way to Cable, WI for the event that earned him his blog name, the American Birkebeiner ski race. He's been training to the point of swearing off those adult beverages we both love (I've gone out of my way to torment him about that) and I'm certain he will have a fine race with the fast conditions that are expected. Joining him and the thousands of skiers that will leave Telemark for the 53k trek to Hayward tomorrow will be the real Bjorn Daehlie, owner of 8 Olympic gold medals and forty plus world cup wins.
Daehlie is by far the biggest name ever to ski the Birkie. This is a guy who can't go to a restaurant in northern Europe without being besieged by autograph and photo seekers. The way he wound up in northern Wisconsin is not by the usual route. Daehlies mother suffers from MS and he made the acquaintance of Dr. Ian Duncan, a world class MS researcher and avid cross country skier thats works out of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Dr. Duncan met Bjorn Daehlie and had the opportunity to ski with him. “It would be like playing golf with Tiger Woods or playing basketball with Michael Jordan,” Duncan said. “I was almost hyperventilating when I was skiing with him. It was such an incredible experience.” This connection resulted in Daehlie skiing the Birkie and the also having MS as the official race charity this year. Skiers that manage to raise $2,500 had the oppportunity to ski with him yesterday. He will also be raffling off his race skis tomorrow to raise additional money. Organizers expect over $50,000 to be raised for MS research.
This whole thing might sound like an exhibition ski or a training run. He may be 42 years old and retired but as a fellow Norwegian said, Bjorn Daehlie does not ski exhibitions. Even though he is complaining about his lack of training and saying he doesn't have any big goals, he also made a telling comment yesterday. "When I'm having a starter's bib on, I think I can't have a training trip". Most of my buddies skiing the race have entered the 50k skate race. When I asked them why they aren't in the 53k classic so they could 'get a piece' of Mr Daehlie, I've received no adequate responses. I had a similar opportunity many years ago when I was foolish enough to run road races. I happened to be entered in the same race as John Walker, the legendary New Zealand distance runner. I did have a goal however. The race was a 10k, 2 laps around a 5k lake. My goal was not to be lapped by Mr Walker and I was able to achieve it, although not by a large margin. On of my friends has a goal of finishing within an hour of Bjorn, an admirable and possibly achievable mark. As Dr. Duncan alluded , for me it would be hard not to enter that 53k Classic just to say you had skied with the best. I'd like to be able to say I played catch with Hank Aaron (screw that Bond's fellow) or took a skate with Gordie Howe. I will be an hour north of town tomorrow however, skiing the Vasaloppet loops with RonO. You can bet we will be checking the results when we get back however.
It will be a great race and a great party in Hayward as it always is. Having a great skier and a greater person like Bjorn Daehlie there can only be icing on the cake.