Birkie Fever for all
Most American Birkebeiner racers can name Tony Wise as founder of the race. But for the past 28 years, skiers – whether they’ve known it or not – have relied on Shellie Milford to ensure the race happened.
Starting as a secretary in 1986, she rose to assistant director, chief of race and race operations director. But Milford will retire after the 2015 Birkie, leaving huge boots to fill as the chief problem solver, crisis calmer, disaster averter and volunteer recruiter for the race.
Ask people to describe Milford’s contributions to the Birkie, and one hears phrases like “heart and soul,” “backbone,” “glue.”
Paul Eckerline was just appointed to the Birkie Foundation Board after 30 years of volunteering, including decades as the one responsible for getting racers’ bags to the finish line and handing them to drooling and exhausted skiers.
“What’s amazing about Shellie is that she knows every detail of race logistics and takes full responsibility for them but still treats every volunteer and skier as an important person,” Eckerline said. “The number of bananas for each food station, designs for pins, timing line details, wave placement, sound systems, snow plowing, bus schedules and traffic directions – she knows it all.”
Jane Bidwell echoed Eckerline’s analysis. She started as a volunteer in 1979, began skiing the race and served nine years on the Birkie board. “Shellie is such a warm, people person (who) treats every skier as an individual rather than just a mass at the starting line,” Bidwell said.
Eckerline recalled answering phones in the Birkie office the day before the race one year. He was standing on the periphery of a serious discussion between Milford and the International Ski Federation Technical Delegate about whether or not it was safe to ski across Lake Hayward.
“She saw I had an issue and calmly took the phone from me, talking reassuringly to an irate skier about his wave placement,” Eckerline said.
“How many people can put on a world-class event year after year and still drill down to the individual level to make sure it’s a good experience for each person?”
The entirety of Charlie Dee’s account of Shellie Milford’s Birkie legacy appears in the February 2015 print edition of Silent Sports magazine. To order a copy, call 888-706-4045. Or subscribe online here and avoid missing another issue.