Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Birkie Magic


I had at least 20 good reasons to not ski the Birkie this year.  The history-making mild winter meant no skiable snow within 5.5 hours of our house for most of January and February.  My kids were swimming in meets every weekend - all weekend long.  I threw my back out, my feet hurt and my knee was oddly swollen in the two weeks before the race.  Jeff was diagnosed with serious arthritis in his hip.  Both of my kids qualified for the Regional Swimming Championships - held during Birkie weekend.  As a mom, my overwhelming instinct was to stay at home and watch them swim.
But I also had the gut feeling that it was important to ski the race.  It is a race that has had a huge influence on my life.  Without the Birkie, I wouldn't have met Jeff.  Without the Birkie, I wouldn't have started canoe racing, which led to canoe triathlon, which led to bike racing, which led to triathlon, which led to coaching and all that I do today.  Without the Birkie, I wouldn't know some of my most treasured friends.
My gut also tells me that continuing to ski the Birkie will keep me fit for a lifetime.  Skiing the Birkie is one of the most important gifts that Jeff and I give ourselves as a couple.  And sometimes, being a mom means that you must maintain your own strength and your own happiness and your own marriage - so that when the kids are grown up - you still have an identity.
So, I found a swim family to take my daughter for the weekend.  My amazing in-laws took my son to his swim meet and activities.  And in the midst of an ironic snow storm, we drove the long road up to Hayward, WI. 
The magic didn't hit me immediately.  Friday was cold and gray.  As Jeff and I did our practice ski, I broke down in tears and just wanted to drive straight back home to the swim meet. 
After that release, I began to soak in the familiar rhythm and landmarks of Birkie weekend.  The festivities on Main Street.  Seeing good, good friends.  "Birkie Fever" ski art stamped in Rosie's Field by our friend from Canada, Ken.  Blackberry pie at the Norske Nook with lunch.  The beauty of the trail and the region.  The drive along the Namekagon River.  The Birkie songs and wax reports on WOJB.  The combined energy and lust for life of 9,400 people who are strong and so happy to ski.  It is Birkie Fever and it is contagious.  Thank God for that!
Saturday morning dawned crisp and sunny.  The canon went off, and I enjoyed every second of my 19th Birkie.  Every hill and every turn were like old friends.  The toughest parts of the 50 km trail were made easier by drumming, singing, musical, cheering, cowbell swinging spectators.  The sun was warming.  I felt strong and whole - a mom and a wife and an individual. 
The finish line was a party and we celebrated.  We both skied better than we had hoped.  One more Birkie in the books - our momentum was not lost. 
Dinner with friends.  Computer access that showed me that our kids were doing well and having fun.  Sunday Birchleggings breakfast with some of the most inspirational, determined athletes I'll ever meet.  A song about how important it is to treasure every experience.  Lessons to guide us for another year once again.
Then, the long road back home - to my busy, wonderful life - with a glow that will remain far into the warm months of the year.

2 comments:

Scott said...

Chris,

I watched the Birkie finish from the comfort of my home. Stacia and I had a very empty feeling in our hearts not making the trip to Hayward. Your post sums thing up quite well. I am happy that you and Jeff made it work. With some hard work, blessings and luck, I hope to see you both next winter.
Scott Pederson

Jeff long said...

Chris - thank you for this great article that really captures the essence of parenthood and all it's conflicts. We do SO much for our kids - and they're most definitely deserving of our full commitment. But as you point out its important to remember you still have a life beyond being mom/dad. Excellent piece! (I'm at an all- day volleyball tourney at UIC as I post this, then it's off to Plainfield for an indoor soccer double header - oy vay!)