As I was writing my post yesterday about my sweet ski “adventure” I remembered a rune of a Viking on skis with a bow and arrow and I wanted to put it in my post. I googled it and found it, yay! (should I end this here?) I also found a program on PBS that caught my attention, “Multiple Sclerosis, Vikings and Nordic Skiing.” How could ANYONE not be caught by a title like that? For me it was especially provocative. My dad suffered from MS and, beyond that obvious hook, who isn’t fascinated by Vikings and, yeah, Langlauf. ❤
I already knew that MS is more prevalent among people from Northern Europe. It has a much higher incidence in Scandinavia and among those of Scandinavian descent. Science has now tracked it across the North Atlantic, a disease of the central nervous system carried in Viking Ships. My dad’s mother was from Sweden, and Ancestry tells me I am mostly Scots, Irish and Scandinavian, all parts of the world where MS is comparatively common. Yay Vikings!
MS is an autoimmune disease that most often shows up in young adulthood, but people can have it for a long time without knowing it. The film goes into detail about the diagnosis and the science behind the progress of the disease. It can now be accurately diagnosed with an MRI, which didn’t exist when my dad was alive. My dad’s MS was diagnosed with certainty in an autopsy. If you’re interested, you can learn about MS here, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society webpage.
The program followed six people in the United States and Norway who’d been diagnosed with MS. One of the points of the program was how exercise can help people with MS. The problem with exercise is that heat — even a rise in body temperature — can be debilitating, causing fatigue and a relapse of symptoms. The obvious sport for a person with MS is the national sport of Norway; Nordic skiing.
In 2012 and 13 (I believe) the American Birkebeiner worked in partnership with the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation to raise money for MS. Three of the skiers in the program did the American Birkebeiner race. At the same time, three Norwegian women skied the Norwegian Birkebeiner.
Both American Birkebeiner races drew Norwegian Olympic champion skiers to Wisconsin to race and raise funds. One of those champions has a mom who suffers from MS.
As I watched them race, I was lost, thinking, “Birki WHAT?” I had no idea…
It started in 1206. Birkebeiner skiers, so called for their protective birch bark leggings, skied through the treacherous mountains and rugged forests of Norway’s Osterdalen valley during the winter of 1206, smuggling the son of King Sverresson and Inga of Vartieg to safety. The flight taken during the Norwegian Civil War took the Birkebeiners and prince from Lillehammer to safety in the town of Trondheim. Inga of Vartieg never became queen as the prince’s father was killed before he could return for her in Vartieg. Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners’ bravery with preserving the life of the boy who later became King Haakon Haakonsson IV and forever changed Northern Europes’ history by his reign.
The story and painting of the flight were the inspiration for the first Birkebeinger ski race held in Norway in 1932. To this day, Norwegian skiers still carry a pack, symbolizing the weight of an 18-month child, in the Worldloppet’s Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet race from Rena – Lillehammer. Thousands of skiers commemorate the journey with annual Birkebeiner races in Norway, Canada, and the United States.
The race known today as the American Birkebeiner began in 1973 as the dream of the late Tony Wise. Thirty-four men and one lone woman were on the starting line clad in woolen sweaters and knickers for the 50-kilometer race from the Lumberjack Bowl in Hayward to Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin. Nineteen more women and juniors would ski a shorter race from “OO” to Telemark. Few knew they were going to make history. There were no U.S. Ski Team members or foreign skiers, just a handful of enthusiasts from a couple of midwestern states, out to try something new. Many of the entrants were on cross-country skis for the first season – some for the first time.
Today, over 13,000 skiers of all ages and abilites and 20,000 spectators fromaround the world gather every February in the Cable-Hayward, Wisconsin area to celebrate “The Birkie”, a race which has become a legend in the cross-country ski world. We look forward to you joining us!https://www.birkie.com/about/history/
The six racers with MS all made it. One of the Norwegian women said she hadn’t expected the race to be fun. “All along the way people cheered me on, gave me coffee, water, food. My time was better than I thought it would be, and I never felt alone. I had so much fun!”
Another Norwegian woman said that the race kept her training every day, even when she didn’t feel like it. When race day came, she was nervous, but ended up having a great time.
A young Wisconsin racer, a former competitive skier who’d been dismayed by her diagnosis (naturally) explained — as the camera followed her awkward little pink tight-clad form around the 25 mile course, “I stopped worrying about my time or competing. I was there to have fun and to make it all the way. It was wonderful. I hope I can keep having fun like this way into my 80s!”
A young man whose main symptom was arm weakness, said, “I felt my arms going about half way so, for a while, I just poled every other stroke.” He stood beaming with the Birkebeiner medal around his neck.