Note: The Vegard Ulvang presentation, "800 miles to the South Pole...on skis," has been moved from the Park Theater to the Hayward High School Auditorium, due to demand for seats.
In the summer of 1991, during his prime as an Olympic athlete, Vegard Ulvang skied 353 miles across Greenland.
He called it off-season training in exotic locales, and it worked. Ulvang won three gold medals and one silver medal in the 1992 Winter Games.
Two months before skiing in his first American Birkebeiner, the man known as “Vegard the Viking” embarked on an even more epic adventure. On skis, he followed Roald Amundsen’s 800-mile route to the South Pole and recreated the explorer’s journey on its 100th anniversary.
Of course, his purpose in Antarctica went beyond training for the Birkie, and his appearance in Hayward isn’t a fresh start to his racing career.
Ulvang, 48, will be the Skiers for Cures Ambassador, representing the National MS Society.
On Thursday, Feb. 23, Ulvang will give a presentation on his Antarctic expedition in the Park Theater at 4 p.m. An MS Skiers for Cures pin is required for entry, and costs $20. Reservations are suggested and can be made by emailing email@example.com.
Ian Duncan invited Ulvang to the Birkie and the MS cause. It’s a recruiting success that follows upon Bjorn Daehlie’s role as ambassador in 2009.
“For the Birkie, it’s a big bit of publicity, having first Bjorn and then Vegard, the two great teammates,” said Duncan, a leading MS researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The idea that you ski the same race with one of these superstars adds to the event greatly.”
Duncan’s dual passions for Nordic skiing and finding a cure for MS motivated him to bring the two Norwegian superstars to the Birkebeiner. He made his first connection with Daehlie, the winner of eight Olympic gold medals, when he provided counsel on treating the skier’s mother.
“Vegard and Bjorn are very close and he knows Bjorn’s mother very well, and he’s coming sort of in support of her,” Duncan said. “We did invite both of them, and were hoping to get them to line up at the start of the race together, but Bjorn business-wise couldn’t manage it.”
Landing Ulvang earned the MS Society an additional year as the recipient of money raised through Skiers for Cures, which topped $225,000 over the past three years.
The money will be devoted to the kind of research that Duncan has been doing at UW-Madison to combat the neurological disease.
“We’re focused on finding a cure, wherever we can find it,” said Cindy Yomantas, spokeswoman for the National MS Society. “It’s supporting researchers and the best and brightest minds around the world.
Ulvang’s visit to Wisconsin will help demonstrate the global reach of MS and the global effort to stop it.
The fundraising element will include a ski with Ulvang on Feb. 23 with the first 30 donors who contribute more than $1,000 joining him on the trail.
On the 25th, the Olympic champion will join his wife and daughters and 9,000 others in skiing the Birkebeiner races.
Given his remarkable exploits, Ulvang should be a powerful draw in Hayward.
His exotic training over the years included summits of Mt. McKinley, in Alaska, Mt. Elbrus, in Russia; Mt. Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania; and Puncak Jaya, in New Guinea.
In Antarctica, bad weather delayed the start of the journey, and the four adventurers fell behind the schedule necessary to match Amundsen’s date of arrival at the South Pole, Dec. 14. Two members of the party were flown ahead to meet the deadline, while Ulvang and Harald Dag Jolle continued the chase on skis.
They posted this on the expedition blog: "We'll stop complaining about the snow conditions, but it's possible that skiing 50 km is far easier in other parts of the world. Here it took us nearly 24 hours. In other words, we have turned our normal rhythm upside down and are doing everything in our power to reach the South Pole by the 14th. We have two days and 80 kilometers to go. It ought to be doable."