Sub-zero temps took a toll on Illinois skiers
Bikes are out of garages and out on the roads. Runners are back in shorts, dodging raindrops but feeling good. And triathletes are laying bricks for the busy outdoor season ahead. Sadly though, cross-country skiers have applied storage wax and said good-bye to the skis that were used a lot this winter in Illinois.
But come summer, we sure won't forget the Birkie.
Illinois in April for silent sports lovers is busy and transitional. Coming up is the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle on April 10. Its 40,000-runner field headlines a month that is loaded locally with many races and training programs for events later in the year.
And while the Shamrock Shuffle filled early, so did the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 9. It took just 31 days, a new record, before the 45,000-runner cap was reached. Add cyclists and triathletes registering for events, and we can see that endurance athletes are defying the tight economy.
Birkie took its toll
And that brings me back to Nordic skiing, specifically the 2011 American Birkebeiner. As we transfer our sporting skill sets to warm-weather pursuits, our favorite ski race remains front-loaded in our minds. This year's Brr-kebeiner, with the largest field ever, triggered frozen memories for me of 1988 and 1990 when the race went into the wind from Hayward to Telemark.
The arctic conditions at this past February's race was the top topic of conversation within the XCChicago Yahoo group and the Northern Illinois Nordic and XCSkier groups on Facebook. Frostbite, the use of Dermatone and petroleum jelly, closing tear ducts, hand warmers, foot warmers ... and did I say frostbite?
Here are some takes from my 2011 Birkie cyber war chest:
"For me, the American Birkebeiner has been and will continue to be a humbling event. It has grabbed my soul from the first time I skied it and will not let go until I cannot do it. It was a slugfest out there this year." - Harry Maranowicz, Downers Grove
"I got pulled into the medic tent at Mosquito Brook with frostbite. I spent 10-plus minutes getting cozy with the medic ... and then she sent me on my way. My face is very splotchy. My explanation at work was that I was having cosmetic surgery and they botched the Botox injections, or, I laced the skates up again for my college team, went into the corner without a facemask ... you should see the other guy. Does anyone know how to apply makeup? - Abbott Wright, Inverness
"I was underdressed on my legs and it made me feel cold through my whole body and my hands never warmed up. My face was frozen cold after two hours and was frostbitten on the cheeks and nose. I have more than blotches. I have first- and second-degree burns. I was one of those in the first-aid building after the race, shivering for 30 minutes. Never ever have I experienced anything like this." - Roger Dejus, Hinsdale
"Congratulations to all the other popsicles out there. Hope you're finally thawed. My knee injury paid off if only in the sense that it encouraged me to just ski the Korte, which meant I was out there in the bitter cold quite a bit less." - David Vincent, Chicago
"I almost feel a little guilty. No problems from the cold during and immediately after the race except for some corneal irritation and blurry vision from wind creeping under the eyelids. ... Post race, different story. Uncontrollable shivering for a few hours after returning to the lodge. Then, intermittent sweats and chills. A little better on Sunday. Went to the doctor Monday and was diagnosed with pneumonia." - Chuck Zagozdon, Chicago
Despite those negative temps and big-chill experiences for much of the race, Illinois skiers had a solid day. Leading the way were Jan Myrda of Palos Heights, who finished 53rd overall in 2:11:40; Mike Choate of Chicago, who was 185th in 2:25:07 and Jason Schisler of Gurnee, who was 196th in 2:26:21. Margie Prevot of Chicago was our top woman (90th) in 2:58:19. Kielo Sauvala of Glenview (149th) was next in 3:12:47 and Stephanie Hon of Wilmette was third-best (274th) in 3:39.40.
Tom Dvoratchek of Streamwood was our top classic skier (117th) in 3:16:43, while Sara Conrad of Naperville was our leading female in 4:20:18.
Skiers from Illinois did OK in the Kortelopet, too. Andrew Nadler, a 16-year-old CXC skier from Chicago, placed 18th overall in the skate division in 1:03:00. Vincent, mentioned above, was 48th overall and third in the M30-34 category with a 1:08:59. And Stacey Jutila of Oak Park, was third in the F35-39 group with a 1:31:17.8. In the classic division, Steve Capps of Wheaton won the M40-44 group in 1:33:25, and Dick Storm of Palatine finished fifth in the M70-74 group in 1:52:52.
Birkie veteran Christine Palmquist of Geneva summed it up well on XCChicago when she wrote, "2011 was sooooo tough for me."
Palmquist, a local mom, coach and Ironman trathlete, continued: "I was hypothermic at 17K. I thought about dropping out. I scoured groups of spectators for extra jackets. Finally, motivated to move one year closer to my 20th, I decided to charge up every hill and hope that would warm me up. It was one hill at a time. The hills were my friends this year!"
And Will Kupisch of Downers Grove, a local track and cross-country coach (affectionately known as the Sarge) started by quoting a master in another field and era: "Van Gogh stated, 'I'm a man of passion absorbed in color,' and all of you clearly had the passion and drive when you took on Birkie 2011. What an opportunity, what a blessing that we can ski at any level."
We won't forget it any time soon. Enjoy spring.
Bob Richards is a journalist and advocate for all silent sports. He lives in Villa Park, Illinois, a western Chicago suburb where he blogs at www.chicagoruntimes.blogspot.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.