American Birkebeiner

11. The loneliest walk

by Marg HayesAustralian 7 x Worldloppet Gold Master

The northern Winter of 2011 was to be an epic Worldloppet adventure for Bruce Wharrie and myself both hoping to complete our 4th Worldloppet Gold Master as well as become Global Worldloppet skiers.  An ambitious plan involving races in 3 different continents in one season.

We flew from Australia to Europe full of anticipation.  We successfully skied the Jiserska50, Dolomitenlauf, Marcialonga and König Ludwig Lauf.  Using Frequent Flyer points, our next race was the Sapporo, then the Canadian Gatineau followed by the American Birkebeiner.

At the end of the American Birkebeiner I waited patiently in -20°C for Bruce to finish but the hours passed and still no sign of him.  Eventually my name was called over the PA system and told to go to the race office.  Having seen two other skiers die in races, a feeling of dread accompanied me as I walked alone the 1 kilometre to the Birkie race office with my mind racing with lots of possible scenarios. I felt totally alone, empty, despondent and confused.  Only a few more steps to the front door of the race office……..Then, as I entered the office, I saw Bruce propped up on a chair and a sense of massive, total relief overcame me.  I told him I was so glad he had only broken his leg.   

Later, the volunteer stamping my Worldloppet passport enquired whether I enjoyed my race.  Upon hearing of Bruce’s accident, the volunteer offered crutches and insisted he had no intention of using them again.  Another wonderful American skier drove us to our Telemark cabin.  American Worldloppet Master Karen Roesler, chauffeured us to the Minneapolis Airport to fly back to Europe as Bruce advised me “the trip must go on so you can finish your 4th Worldloppet Master.” 

Posting on Facebook requesting help resulted in being picked up at Prague Airport by two Aussie skiers, Jenny and Greg De Freitas, who we had only met at the Jiserska 50.

The Polish race officials arranged for Bruce to be transported to the race where he was treated like a VIP with a bird’s eye view over the Bieg Piastow finish.

At the Engadin, using his crutches Bruce stumbled 1km down icy pathways to the 21km refreshment stop in Pontresina.  I think I was the only participant to get a kiss at that drink station as well as cheers from Bruce and bystanders.

At the Lillehammer hostel we came across Irish Worldloppet skier Jan Hurley.  I had met Jan in the toilet queue at the Czech race several years earlier.  She invited us to Dublin as we now had no plans.  Arriving at Jan’s, Bruce spotted a bicycle and asked to have a try despite still having a leg cast.  Bruce managed to get on Jan’s bike and ride it, only needing support to get on and off.  The next day we bought bicycles and cycled for 2 months around Ireland.  

Worldloppet is so much more than just skiing races it’s also about making great friends and helping others.

Bruce and his crutches
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