I first met Jim McDonell at one of the Midwest regional snowshoe racing series events last season. I was excited to see a series of over 20 racing events scheduled that McDonell was instrumental in organizing. But I was also pleased to see the spirit in which he himself raced in that event.

Dressed in a Scottish kilt with face and arms painted half white, half blue, just like Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart. The film was based on the historic story of William Wallace of Scotland during the late 13th century. Jim McDonell ran the race with the fervor of a Scotsman in competition.

I admired not only his leadership role in the development of this successful series of events, titled the Braveheart Snowshoe Racing Series, but I also admired his sincere effort in keeping the Braveheart theme alive among snowshoe racing enthusiasts.

Having competed in cross-country ski racing for many years, McDonell decided to take up snowshoe racing in 1994. He has been racing ever since.

"Snowshoe racing became my passion and I wanted to introduce more people to the pleasure I derived from the sport: the woods, the crisp fresh air in your lungs and the enduring friendships of the small well-knit community of these wonderful people," McDonell said.

Being of Scottish decent and having taken a bike trip in Scotland in 2004, prompted McDonell to apply the Braveheart name and theme to the race series. "Snowshoeing is primal and so are the Scots," he argued.

The Braveheart series was born in 2010 with a little over a dozen racing events. By 2012, series participation grew from 40 to 80 in 26 events in five Midwest states - Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa.

The Braveheart series is built on the foundation created by the former Dar Volrath Snowshoe Racing Series and the Midwest Snowshoe Racing Series put on by veteran event organizers Tim Zbikowski and Carol Klitzke. There to encourage McDonell to revive those efforts were Alicia Gordon and Phil Smith with help from Zbikowski and Klitzke.

For many years, Zbikowski and Klitzke managed the Cutemoose website, www.cutemoose.net, to provide information and results from Midwest snowshoe races and other events. Dave Sykora of Green Bay, Wisconsin, contributed rules and categories as well as managed the tracking of all registered Braveheart participants, sending his results to Cutemoose for publication.

Although McDonell is instrumental in directing the Braveheart series, he adds, "The real credit goes to the tireless work of the individual race directors and their volunteers who make all the fun and excitement possible."

There are three race classifications. The "Open Class" includes participants wearing any size and style of snowshoe, as long as it meets the minimum USSSA standard size. The "Mountaineering Class" requires competitors to wear a snowshoe 30 inches in length or larger, plus carry a 15 pound pack or weighted vest. And the "Classic Class" requires them to wear traditional wood-frame snowshoes only.

For this upcoming season, three more classes are being added. The "Junior Class" is for racers ages 14 and under. The "Athena and Clydesdale Class" is for women over 150 pounds and men over 200 pounds. And the "Kilter's Class" has been introduced for race participants wearing kilts. These new classes give more folks an opportunity to race and win.

The Braveheart Championship
Although this is the fourth Braveheart season, March 8-10, 2013, will mark only the second annual Braveheart Midwest Snowshoe Racing Championships. Along with hot air balloon events, the snowshoe events are scheduled at Lakewoods Resort near Cable, Wisconsin. With races taking place on March 9, the Championship events include 5K and 10K races, a mountaineering race and relay races. The annual Championship awards banquet follows the races that evening. Check out information on the weekend of events at www.lakewoodsresort.com/events/sponsored-events/hot-air-for-hearts.

Dion Snowshoes of Vermont has been a shared sponsor of the Braveheart series, along with Wintergreen Northern Wear of Ely, Minnesota; Silent Glide of Medford, Wisconsin; ALTRA Running Shoes and THORLO Socks, donating snowshoes and prizes.

At the awards banquet, a unique award is given to participants who complete a certain number of races. The awards are made of hand-crafted oak from McDonell's land on the Snake River, near Pine City, Minnesota. The Braveheart Series bi-colored snowflake logo and the series name and date are printed on the trophy.

To date four of the 22 racing events in the series are regional qualifying races for the United States Snowshoe Association (USSSA). Participant who race and qualify at these events have an opportunity to compete in the 13th annual USSSA Dion Snowshoe National Snowshoe Championship in Bend, Oregon, scheduled for March 15-17.

Jim McDonell continues to race in his blue and white face-paint in the spirit of Braveheart snowshoeing. He says that he has been mistaken as a Vikings fan on the way to a football game. Although McDonell hails form Minnesota, he is not promoting football in his ornate garb. He is merely having fun and promoting snowshoe racing in a most enthusiastic manner.

The fun begins again starting this coming January.

Jim Joque is the coordinator of disability services at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He is also an adjunct adventure education instructor at UWSP, teaching courses on camping, backpacking, snowshoeing, adventure leadership and Leave No Trace concepts.

2013 Braveheart Snowshoe Series

Heading into its fourth season, the Braveheart Snowshoe Series includes 22 events in 2013.

Jan. 5: Rib Lake Snowshoe Adventure Run-Walk, Rib Lake, WI, info@skiriblake.com

Jan. 12: RASTA Snowshoe Hare, Rhinelander, WI, marigo_round@yahoo.com

Jan. 13: Afton State Park Snowshoe Race, Afton, MN

Jan. 19: Winteriffic Snowshoe Race & Fun Run, Savage, MN, j.millonig@integra.net

Jan. 19: Perkinstown Snowshoe Race, Perkinstown, WI, paula@k99wigm.com

Jan. 20: Boulder Lake Snowshoe Race, Duluth, MN

Jan. 26: Phillips Flurry, Phillips, WI, speer_kristi@yahoo.com

Jan. 26: Iowa State Championship, Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Black Hawk Co., IA, scott.runnersflat@gmail.com

Jan. 26: Chippewa Valley Powder Keg, Eau Claire, WI, jrauckman@gmail.com

Jan. 26: Mosquito Hill Snowshoe Races, New London, WI, Jessica.Miller@Outagamie.org

Feb. 2: Udder Snowshoe Race, Athens, WI, cjranch@yahoo.com

Feb. 2: Twin Cities Snowshoe Shuffle, New Brighton, MN, jdanielson@esns.org

Feb. 2: Iola Twilight 5K & 10K, Iola, WI, info@greatlakesendurance.com; 715/701-0360

Feb. 9: Treehaven Tromp, Tomahawk, WI, jheusink@uwsp.edu

Feb. 16: Tahquamenon Falls Snowshoe 5K & 15K, Paradise, MI, info@greatlakesendurance.com

Feb. 17: Scotch Creek Woodland Waddle, Edgar, WI, mastankowski@frontier.com

Feb. 24: Stomp the Swamp, Wausau, WI, jjpunke@aol.com

Feb. TBA: New Berlin Snowshoe Race, New Berlin, WI, johnzino@aol.com

Mar. 2: Lake Wissota Loppet, Lake Wissota, WI, LakeWissotaLoppet@gmail.com

Mar. 3: Moose Tracks, Minocqua, WI
, mollymoose54@yahoo.com

Mar. 9: Lakewoods Hot Air Balloon Rally & Hot Air for Hearts Snowshoe Races, Cable, WI, info@lakewoodsresort.com

For specific race details, go to www.cutemoose.net/snowshoe_schedule.htm. The series is based on race participation and not race placement. There is no additional fee to participate in the Braveheart series. Athletes register for each race by contacting race manager Dave Sykora at snowshoer58@gmail.com. Racers are responsible for reporting their participation and the race class for each race within a week of completing the event.

Midwest Qualifying Races for the USSSA Nationals

Out of 37 regional qualifying racing events leading up to the United States Snowshoe Association (USSSA) 2012-2013 Dion Snowshoes National Snowshoe Championship in Bend, Oregon, on March 15-17, the following qualifiers will be held in the Midwest.

Jan. 19: Winterrific Snowshoe Race, Savage, MN, j.millonig@integra.net

Jan. 19: Bigfoot Snowshoe Boogie, Traverse city, MI, runfittc@aol.com

Jan. 20: Boulder Lake Snowshoe Race, Duluth, MN, sales@rollerskishop.com

Jan. 26: Iowa State Snowshoe Championship, Cedar Falls, IA, scott.runnersflat@gmail.com

Jan. 26: Illinois State Snowshoe Championship, Ringwood, IL, ricklandre@yahoo.com

Jan. 26: Phillips Flurry Snowshoe Race, Phillips, WI, info@phillipsflurry.com

Feb. 2: Twin Cities Snowshoe Shuffle, Minneapolis, MN, agencyinfo@esns.org

Feb. 2: Ohio State Snowshoe Championship, Kirtland, OH, zsj@outrunohio.com

Feb. 9: Treehaven Snowshoe Tromp, Tomahawk, WI, jheusink@uwsp.edu

For information about any of the qualifying racing events and the National Championship, go to www.snowshoeracing.com or contact USSSA Sports Director Mark Elmore at usssasnowshoeguy@gmail.com or 518/420-6961.