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Three Skiers & A Baby Will Re-Enact 800-Year-Old Birkebeiner Legend

Wed, Dec  17, 2008 - By Cherie Morgan

The search for three cross country skiers and a baby to re-enact the 800-year-old legend that inspired the creation of the American Birkebeiner cross country ski race from Cable to Hayward, Wis. is over.

During the 36th anniversary on Saturday, February 21, 2009, best friends Richard Pierce and Jeff Cummisford will assume the roles of Torstein and Skervald, the Birkebeiner warriors who rescued Prince Haakon (Hō-ken) during the Norwegian Civil War in 1206.

The two Viking warriors, called “Birkebeiners” for the protective birch bark leggings they wore, skied more than 50 kilometers through rugged mountains and forested terrain smuggling the infant son of King Syverresson and Inga of Vartieg from Lillehammer to safety in the town of Trondheim.

The rescued prince became one of the most popular kings in Norwegian history, and the Birkebeiner soldiers became a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity.

Richard’s daughter, Lyndsey Lewis will dress as Inga from Varteig, mother of Prince Haakon, while her one-year old son Piercen will assume the role of the cherished prince.

Lyndsey’s clothing – a long, black wool jumper, traditional Norwegian sweater, and headgear of the era – will complement the Warriors’ authentic gear which includes birch bark leggings, wood skis, and weapons from the year 1206.

Richard, Jeff and Lyndsey will ski the Birkebeiner course together. On Main Street in Hayward the warriors will exchange the baby doll they’ve been carrying for 54 kilometers for Piercen, the prince for the day.

With the live baby swaddled to Torstein’s side, the warriors and Inga will ski the final two blocks to the finish line as hundreds of spectators ring bells and cheer the rescuers on.

Richard also known as (aka) Torstein, Jeff aka Skervald and Lyndsey aka Inga were selected to re-enact the escape and rescue by Phillip and Michael Schaefer and Thom and Gary Gerst and Gail Moede-Rogall, skiers who have also re-enacted the historic event.

The former warriors and Inga said their selection was based on passion for the event, ability to represent the historic race roots and perseverance to ski the distance in historic attire.

“We didn’t expect so many high-quality entries,” said Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF). “Thirty six skiers, men and women, submitted creative, inspiring and persuasive essays pitching their skills, passion and background as the perfect candidates to serve as the 2009 Birkebeiner warriors and Inga. It was a difficult decision.”

The three finalists said they decided to enter the competition as a tribute to friendship and the sport that they love. Richard and Jeff have been best friends for 25 years with their friendship growing to their families.

“I really wanted to do this for my dad and Jeff,” said Lyndsey. “They spent a lot of time carting Jeff’s son and I around to as many cross country ski races as possible, sacrificing a ton in the process. My participation as Inga is a celebration of their friendship, hard work and commitment to family and the sport that they love.”

Richard, an engineer at his own firm, Pierce Engineers in Milwaukee and Madison, has skied 23 Birkebeiners; Jeff, a Vice President-Field Manager with Johnson Bank in the Milwaukee area, has skied 22 Birkebeiners: and Lyndsey, a stay at home mom of three boys and is the owner of LyndseyLew Photography (http://www.lyndseylewphotography.com). She has skied 8 Kortelopets, is a former Wisconsin High School Champion, member of the Midwest Junior Olympic Team and an NCAA collegiate skier for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and St. Cloud State University.

They say showing up on race day with pine-tarred skis, attire representing the era, and enthusiasm to boot will be a snap.

“They’ll not only re-enact the historic rescue, they’ll inspire 7,000 other skiers, 2,000 volunteers and 15,000 spectators from around the world,” Zuelsdorff said. “It will be a highlight and great way to commemorate the 36th anniversary.”

Come race day, the Birkie 2009 warriors and Inga will leave the start gates with the elite skiers. More than 7,000 other skiers will follow every five minutes in alternating skating and classic wave starts. The warriors and Inga expect to see the majority of those skiers at one time or another throughout the day.

To learn more about North America’s largest and most prestigious cross country ski race and to register for races and events, log on to http://www.birkie.com, email birkie@birkie.com or call 715/634-5025.

Birkie 2009 is sponsored by Subaru, Johnson Bank, Sawyer County Record and Superior Publishing, and other businesses throughout the region and country.