All sorts of feelings rushed through Jackie Lindskoog as she skied down Main St. in Hayward, Wis., in the final blocks of the Birkebeiner Ski Race.
“Relief,” the 68-year-old woman said. “Appreciation. There are so many feelings, it makes you want to weep. You feel so blessed to have good health.”
On Saturday afternoon, Lindskoog completed her 33rd Birkie. As always, she was wearing a red bib, signifying that she is one of the founders of this wonderful regional sporting event that began in 1973 when 34 men and one woman, Lindskoog, took off on the 54 kilometer race over the hills and through the woods between the Telemark Resort near Cable and Hayward.
On Saturday, 7,461 skiers, the second-highest total ever, raced in three different events: The 50K skate, the 54K classic and the 23K Kortelopet. Only four of the participants from that first field were competing Saturday.
There was no effort to keep women out of that first race, Lindskoog recalled.
“Tony Wise [the late creator of the Birkie] simply didn’t think women would be interested,” she said. “I wasn’t making a statement when I got in that first race. I just always liked endurance events.”
She also was the only woman competing in 1974. On Saturday, there were 1,911 women in the field.
Certainly, there are faster skiers than Lindskoog, who was on the classic course for 6 hours, 49 minutes on Saturday. The fastest woman in the classic field this year was Martina Stursova of the Czech Republic, who covered the course in 3 hours, 26 minutes, 13 seconds.
There also were older racers. At 85, Roy Carlsted of St. Paul did the 54k event. Not surprisingly, he won the 80 and older division. A former ultra-marathoner, Carlsted is a cross-country skiing and biking marvel. Three years ago, he had triple bypass surgery, forcing him to miss last year’s Birkie but he was back on the course Saturday, completing his 30th race. By Monday morning, at his neighborhood McDonald’s enjoying his morning coffee with “the boys.”
The Birkie is filled with remarkable sports heroes.
But few could better represent the everyday joy of amateur sport more than Lindskoog.
When she isn’t walking her dogs, she’s on her snow shoes. And when she’s not on her snow shoes, she’s on her bicycle (25 mile commuting rides to Hayard are common). There are weekly hikes — on snow shoes or boots — with “the Birkie girls” who live in the Hayward region. All of this is done on relatively new knees. She had knee replacement surgery two years.
Lindskoog finds time to volunteer at a Hayward food shelf and is host of a weekly radio program, on WOJB, a public radio station owned by the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of the Ojibwe. The former Hennepin County nurse calls her Friday morning show “Patchwork,” and offers listeners a mix of everything from classical music to folk to rock into the two-hour program.
This lifestyle — ” a simple life,” she says — was what she and her late husband, Wayne, sought when they retired and moved from their Edina home to Drummond, Wis., in 2001. Her husband had been a founding Birkie skier, too. The former school counselor died from cancer in 2002.
Lindskoog doesn’t profess to be a great skier.
“I have bad technique and I really don’t enjoy the downhills,” she said.
When she started Saturday, she said, she took a deep breath and gave herself this pep talk: “No sitting down until you get to Hayward.”
She started the race with a message “Yes we can” on her cap and a smile on her face.
When she hit main street, her friends, the Birkie Girls, were there cheering and she laughed and cried and breathed a sigh of relief saying, “Thank goodness that’s over.”
A few minutes later another thought was crossing her mind.
“I was trying to think how I might be able to go a little faster next year,” she said.