Dave Landgraf persevered.
From the very first American Birkebeiner, an epic escapade that Landgraf completed with almost no training, through every one after, he led the way as coach, role model and inspiration.
The 39th Birkebeiner, on Saturday, will be the first ever without Landgraf at the start line, and his absence will test the emotional perseverance of his widow, Laurie; children, Cole and Emalea; and hundreds of friends who chased him over the hills between Cable and Hayward.
Landgraf was hit by a car and killed while bicycling near Hayward in August, and the opening ceremony of the ski festival served as a tribute to his commitment to the race.
“Drive. Love of the sport. Dedication to training and life and living actively,” Laurie Landgraf said to explain her husband’s motivation. “He had incredible drive.”
Laurie Landgraf lights the torch opening the American Birkebeiner in Hayward. Photo by Tom Held
Not only did Landgraf ski in every Birkebeiner, he skied well. At 61, he still started and finished in the elite wave, among the best citizen skiers in the country.
On Saturday, Laurie will send those skiers off as the honorary race starter, then ski in her 21st Birkebeiner. Cole and Emalea will share their Dad’s red founder’s bib and put his coaching to practice over the 50 kilometers.
“It will be hardest on Saturday,” Laurie said, in between hugs from old friends beside the Bikebeiner torch. “We’re skiing it for him. It’s been so much a part of our lives.”
The Landgrafs will be part of a record group at the start line, more than 9,200 skiers. They will be led by Landgraf’s spirit and the trio representing the original Birchleggers.
Barry Knapp and Darald Bothun will portray the Norwegian Warriors Skervald and Torstein who rescued Prince Haakon during a civil war in 1206. Kristin Bothun, Darald’s daughter, will ski as Inga from Varteig, the prince’s mother.
The trio from Minnesota led the procession down Main St. on Thursday.
Photo by Tom Held