American Birkebeiner

10. Worldloppet is life changing

by Daniel Mitchell, Master #4518

Growing up in the farmland of southern Michigan, United States, I desired to be an athlete but lacked the opportunity and discipline. After completing my training to be a family doctor, my wife Carol and I set up a clinic in an underserved small town in northern Michigan; a place with an abundance of lakes and woods and long cold winters with plenty of snow.  It was there that we started to cross country ski on some of the local trails and first heard about the American Birkebeiner.  The 50 km race, patterned after the Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet, is held each February only four hour’s drive west of our home. I enjoyed skiing and so decided to give it a try, entering my first Birkie in 1983.  I was stricken by what is known as “Birkie fever”, with skiing another Birkie the only cure. So began my saga into the cross country world.

 Yearly I would ski the Birkie and Carol and our kids would ski either the Birkie, the Korteloppet (the shorter race) or the Barnebirke (the kids race).  The Birkie became an annual family event on par with Christmas.   One of my early goals was to keep skiing until all our children were old enough to ski the Birke. As it turns out, our three sons have also caught Birkie fever.  I eagerly anticipated the time when they could keep up with me and now, after a few years, I can’t keep up with them.  Added together, our family has enjoyed participating in over 100 Birkie event races.

As our involvement in the Birkie grew I also became intrigued with the Worldloppet series, so in 2003 I did my first non-Birkie Worldloppet race in Norway.  It was a difficult race and trip, but started my journey towards becoming a Worldloppet Master. Training became more challenging in 2014 after Carol and I moved to Vietnam to assist in improving medical care there. My training now consists of roller skiing along the beach road in hot and humid Da Nang.

 I became a Worldloppet Master in 2016 and have completed 14 of the 20 Worldloppet races along with 34 Birkies. 

This past winter Carol and I met our three sons in Europe and we four skied the Dolomitenlauf and the Marcialonga together. Our second son, Josh, became a Worldloppet Master there and Ben and Andrew are well on their way. Who would have guessed that cross country skiing would have taken us off the beaten path to so many beautiful places in the world with such exceptional trails and people. Despite aging and the challenges of global climate change, it is on my bucket list to complete the races in the six remaining countries (China, Japan, Argentina, Iceland, Sweden, and Finland) and become a Global Master.  The Worldloppet has enriched my life and keeps me going!!

2020 Marcialonga finish area: Tired but happy Dan, in bib, with much faster sons (L to R) Andrew, Josh, Ben.
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