American Birkebeiner

39. Skiing with a purpose

by William Brown – 2 x Gold Master & Global Skier n. 263-

Moving to Minnesota at age 26, I took up Nordic skiing and completed my first American Birkebeiner the following season.  I was hooked for life!  Over the next 33 years, I’d become a two-time World Master skier and a Worldloppet Global skier by completing all 20 races, the last 17 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

After skiing my first races, I heard about the Worldloppet races during a presentation from a local skier who had skied the Vasaloppet – it was 90km and she started and finished in the dark.  It sounded crazy, but secretly I really wanted to do it someday.

Over the years, I would skate the Birkie annually, heading north to Wisconsin with different friends (usually Brad Mlynar) and sometimes my wife Karen. Somehow, we always found a place to stay.  The Birkie became a family event as our three boys, Jake, Nate and Luke, took up skiing.  They all started racing the Kortelopet and eventually the Birkie, finishing much faster than me.

I finally got a chance to ski my first foreign Worldloppet race in 2011 at the Bieg Piastow.  Despite being my first classic race, it was an incredibly fun event with quite an international feel.  In 2014 I was fortunate to ski the Vasaloppet with my friend Charlie Snow, and actually finished before dark.  What an awesome event that all Nordic skiers should get to do at least once.

At that point, my dreams became bigger, and I started to think about completing all the Worldloppet races.  However, during the 2015 Birkie I had some new physical challenges.  A few doctor visits later I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  The doctor said that intense physical exercise was one of the best things I could do to minimize the impact of the disease.  He also said there no way to predict how long I would be able to ski.  It was time to get serious about becoming a Global skier.

I decided to turn my passion for pursuing all 20 Worldloppet races into a fundraiser for Parkinson’s research.  I created Ski For Parkinson’s and teamed up with the Michael J Fox Foundation (MJFF) to raise money for this important cause.  I’ve recruited a few other skiers and we ask friends to sponsor us in the Worldloppet races in which we compete.  In four years, we’ve raised over $300,000 for Parkinson’s research.

At the 2019 Ushuaia Loppet in Argentina, I achieved my goal of completing all 20 Worldloppet races and became the first American to do so.  Crossing the finish line that beautiful sunny day in the Patagonia mountains, I experienced a special feeling that I hope to never forget.  It was extra special to be greeted at the finish line by Karen and Charlie, both of whom had already finished.  I hope to have many more successful races in the years to come, but it will be hard to top the feeling that day in the Southern most city in the world.  Thank you Worldloppet!

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