The silent sports community lost a great friend when brain cancer claimed the life of Wayne Fish on February 14 at the age of 62. Wayne was best known in the silent sports world for his competitive pursuits in cross-country skiing and mountain biking. However, Wayne's adult life was interwoven in the silent sports scene in a variety of activities from running, road biking, sea kayaking to triathlon. His recreational and competitive pursuits in silent sports evolved over four decades, stemming from competitive motocross racing.
The endurance athlete
Wayne followed the popular surge of running in the 1970s and began running competitively in 10Ks and marathons. In the March 1973, Wayne and wife, Barb, rented their first pair of cross-country skis, starting, arguably, the greatest athletic passion of his life. Cross-country skiing was a great way to keep in shape for running and motocross, but soon cross-country skiing took precedent. Knee injuries sidelined Wayne from consistent competitive running, so he took up triathlon and road bike racing as substitutes.
The advent of the mountain bike sparked Wayne's immediate curiosity. Wayne enjoyed being physically active in the woods more so than on the roadways. His bike handling skills developed during his motocross days directly transferred to the mountain biking, and he proved that in competition. He found mountain biking didn't hurt his knees and carried over fairly well to cross-country skiing. If there was any passion that competed with Wayne's love for cross-country skiing, it was mountain biking.
After a series of knees surgeries, Wayne later became an avid sea kayaker. It wasn't too long before he was island hopping near his childhood home in Door County and among the Apostle Islands.
The volunteer and coach
Wayne was not only an active participant in but an active contributor to silent sports, particularly in his community of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. He started a ski shop, Fish Nordic. He was instrumental in developing and maintaining ski trails in the 1980s and mountain bike trails in the late 1990s, both at Camp Tesomas. He was also instrumental in the creation and maintenance of ski and mountain bike competitions on these trails.
Wayne was motivated to pass on his passion for these activities, particularly to the youth. His coaching experience started at Rhinelander Middle School's new running program. He would also support the cross-country ski program there and at the high school in a variety of roles from the early 1980s until his passing.
Athlete and coach education
Wayne valued education. He became the Technological Education instructor at the Rhinelander Middle School in the fall of 1971 - a position he held for 32 1/2 years before retiring. He also believed in the healthy lifestyle that silent sports provide. His technical aptitude sparked his curiosity in many aspects of cross-country skiing, such as training, technique and waxing. He was tirelessly driven to educate endurance athletes and enthusiasts.
Wayne lives on in spirit with those he positively influenced - none more than me.
A charitable fund is being created to further support ongoing education for endurance athletes and coaches in Wayne's upper Midwest community. People can donate to this cause. More information is available at caringbridge.org/visit/waynefish.
Celebration of life events
Wayne's life will be remembered in a number of ways, not least of all through the following events.
• The American Birkebeiner: The 38th annual American Birkebeiner would have been Wayne's 33rd straight Birkie. The American Birkebeiner Foundation allowed me, his son, wear his special race bib on his behalf. Jill Reimer and I also lit the torch at the opening ceremonies. It was a real honor to celebrate my dad alongside Butch Reimer, my former collegiate coach & the individual that recruited and encouraged me to get into coaching.
• Annual Wayne Fish Birthday Ski in the Porcupine Mountains: In late March every year, we will celebrate Wayne's birthday by continuing his traditional epic ski to the summit of the Porcupine Mountains.
• Rhinelander Mountain Bike Race: This spring race will continue on in his name and follow the mountain bike trails he was instrumental in developing, building and maintaining.
Strong to the end
Wayne not only displayed a strong competitive will in life, but the same was evident in his passing. Wayne strode toward the finish line of life head on and remained amazingly optimistic and actively engaged. He died with grace and dignity. Wayne's strength was there in the end as it was throughout his life, providing a lesson for all of us on how to embrace the time we're given.
Bryan Fish is the U.S. Ski Team Continental Cup Coach and former Central Cross Country (CXC) Elite Head coach as well as former Nordic skiing head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay for whom he competed as a skier from 1993 to 1998. He was named the 2007 U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Cross Country Domestic and Development Coach of the Year.