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Participants From Around the World Get Ready to Ski the Birkie

Sun, Feb  8, 2009 - By Cherie Morgan

HAYWARD, Wis., January 27, 2009 – They come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. Some have done it dozens of times while others are embarking on their first long-distance ski journey. The elite ski to win, while many race their friends or only compete against themselves. Others simply want to mark it off their “to do” list. They’re cross country skiers and they’re gearing up for the 36th annual American Birkebeiner ski races from February 19-21, 2009 in Cable and Hayward, Wis.

Nearly 10,000 skiers will join the colorful pageantry. While over 7,000 skiers set their sights on the American Birkebeiner and Kortelopet, another 2,500 arrive for the shorter races and events that dominate the three-day event.

And they’re doing all kinds of things to get in shape for it.

“This year with early season snow and great ski conditions many are flocking to the Birkie Trail and other trails to meet ski friends, kick out the kinks, and get ready for race day,” said Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation.  “You will find others from warmer climates preparing by roller skiing, biking or running.”

The Birkie attracts serious athletes.

Bjorn Daehlie: The most accomplished cross country ski racer of all time, Norwegian Bjorn Daehlie will ski the 2009 Birkie Classic. He has earned eight Olympic golds, four silvers, and has been a six-time world cup champion with numerous world cup victories. Bjorn will ski the 54 kilometer race and participate in additional American Birkebiner events as an Ambassador for Multiple Sclerosis Research for the 2009 Birkie Skiers for Cures fundraising program. Bjorn Daehlie’s mother has suffered from MS for several years and raising needed funds for MS Research is important to him.

Zach Simons: Many people have walked through Telemark Lodge and looked at the pictures of past champions and wished that they too could hang next to the likes of Dave Quinn, Oddvar Braa, Carl Swenson, and Zach Simons.  As a living Birkie legend, and resident of Park City, Utah, Zach returns for this season’s Birkie hoping to join an even more elite group of individuals with names such as Muffy Ritz, and Zanetel as multi Birkie winners.  He will have his work cut out for him, but since starting his career at the University of Utah, moving on to train as a sprinter for a few seasons and finally settling in as a long distance specialist, Zach has truly found his niche.  He has finished no less than second in the Birkie and aims to keep it that way.

Evelyn Dong: The 2008 American Birkebeiner Champion, Evelyn Dong is returning to defend her title. Her victory two seasons ago at the Canadian National Championships 30 kilometer freestyle made everyone take notice of her ability as one of America’s best distance freestyle racers.  Evelyn continued her rise throughout the 2007/2008 season with an impressive victory at the Owl Creek Chase SuperTour 30km.  In addition to her Birkie win she had very impressive results in additional Worldloppet events including a fourth place finish in the Swiss Engadin and a first place finish in the Kangaroo Hoppet in Australia. This season should be another great year for Evelyn as she prepares for a repeat win at the Birkie.

Muffy Ritz:  Two time American Birkebeiner Champion, Muffy Ritz, will be skiing the 2009 Birkie Classic as an elite skier. Muffy was the 1985 and 1986 Birkebeiner Women’s Champion and finished sixteenth in her most recent Birkie, skied in 2003. In total she has completed 12 Birkebeiners. What inspired Muffy a resident on Ketchum, Idaho to return? She claims her husband suggested they do the Birkie along with some friends. Muffy didn’t need any persuasion and signed them up that very night. “I realized it had been five years since my last Birkie and that it was time to do it again,” said Ritz. “Besides I need to take a peek at my pictures on the Wall of Champions.”

The Birkie attracts recreational athletes.

Three skiers - Ernie St. Germaine, John Kotar and Dave Landgraf - have skied every race since its inception. While they never intended to be one of a handful of skiers to complete all 35 Birkebeiners, they just can’t seem to stop. They represent the spirit of the Birkie community, and they'll be on the start line for the 36th anniversary race.

Katie Brekke, 23, of Madison, Wisconsin, found her passion for Nordic skiing at an early age. An avid skier since the seventh grade, Katie has accepted the challenge of the Birkie twice. Katie’s life took on another challenge this summer after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Katie will ski the Birkie and participate in the fundraising efforts of this year’s Birkie Skiers for Cures fundraising program.

Randall Sisulak, 59, of Crownsville, Maryland, will be skiing his 31st consecutive Birkie. Although he has very little opportunity to cross country ski Randall says the best part of the Birkie is that it motivates him to stay in shape year after year which he does by biking, running, paddling and a variety of other activities. “I fit the definition of a citizen racer,” said Sisulak. “I ski the Birkie for the physical challenge of the event and the enjoyment of being with family, friends, and having a fun day skiing.”

“It’s inspiring to hear skier stories and discover how the Birkie motivates them to stay in shape year-round,” Zuelsdorff said. “And there’s no doubt about it; Birkie Fever is on the rise as skiers’ anticipate the big day. We encourage new skiers and those who haven’t been on the Birkie Trail for a while to join us for the 36th anniversary. It’s easy to register online at or to call 715/634-5025.”
For more information or to register for the the 50 kilometer Birkie Skate presented by Becker Law Office, 54K Subaru Birkie Classic, 23K Kortelopet presented by Premier Physical Medicine and Wellness Clinic, 8K Johnson Bank Prince Haakon, CenturyTel Junior Birkie, Salomon/Swiss Miss Barnebirkie, Cheqtel 5K/10K Race for Families, Elite Sprints, and the Birkie Skiers for Cures program benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, log on to, email or call 715/634-5025.

Birkie 2009 is sponsored by Subaru, Becker Law Office SC, Premier Physical Medicine and Wellness Clinic, Johnson Bank, Sawyer County Record and other businesses throughout the region and country.