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Three skiers & baby will re-enact 800-year-old Birkebeiner legend

American Birkebeiner

Thu, Dec  10, 2009 - By Cherie Morgan

Josie Nelson has been chosen to represent Inga the Mother of the beloved Prince Haakon (Karl).
Josie Nelson has been chosen to represent Inga the Mother of the beloved Prince Haakon (Karl).
HAYWARD, Wis., December 8, 2009 – 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 37th anniversary on Saturday, February 27, 2010, brothers David and Grant Nelson will assume the roles of Torstein and Skervald, the Birkebeiner warriors who rescued Prince Haakon 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.

David’s wife, Josie Nelson will dress as Inga from Varteig, mother of Prince Haakon, while their 13-month old son Karl will assume the role of the cherished prince.

Josie’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.

Grant, David and Josie 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 Karl, 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.

Grant also known as (aka), Skervald, David aka Torstein, and Josie aka Inga were selected to re-enact the escape and rescue by Thom and Gary Gerst, Gail Moede-Rogall, Richard Pierce, Jeff Cummisford and Lyndsey Lewis, 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). “Twenty seven skiers, men and women, submitted creative, inspiring and persuasive essays pitching their skills, passion and background as the perfect candidates to serve as the 2010 Birkebeiner warriors and Inga. It was a difficult decision.”

The three finalists said they decided to enter the competition in honor of the Norwegian tradition and as a tribute to family, friendship and the sport that they love. All three are elite wave skiers and indicated that they look forward to slowing their pace to be more consistent with the legendary journey.

The Nelson brothers said, “It has been our long standing Birkie tradition to ski back from Lake Hayward encouraging friends to finish. Skiing as warriors will allow us to spend the entire day sharing the Birkie spirit with all the people we meet, while we reenact the epic journey.”

Josie, an ultra-marathon athlete said, “I was struck by Inga's courage, entrusting her beloved son to the men without knowing if she would see him again. It would be an honor to reenact this important chapter of our Nordic heritage, and an opportunity to share our passion for skiing with Karl before he is even old enough for the Barnebirkie. I eagerly anticipate the chance to help all the Birkie skiers finish with smiles on their faces.”

Grant, a dentist in Duluth, Minnesota, has skied 15 Birkies; David, a circuit designer for satellite components lives in Medicine Lake, Minnesota, with his wife Josie and son Karl. David has skied 16 Birkies. Josie, worked as a physical therapist until becoming a stay at home mom after the birth of Karl; she has skied 11 Birkies and one Kortelopet.

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 7,500 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 37th anniversary.”

Come race day, the Birkie 2010 warriors and Inga will leave the start gates with the elite skiers. More than 7,500 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, email or call 715/634-5025.

Birkie 2010 is sponsored by Subaru, Johnson Bank, Sawyer County Record, and other businesses throughout the region and country.