The first time Cheri Carr put on a pair of cross country skis was during junior high gym class in Iowa. After graduating high school she worked at a ski resort in Utah, finding she really enjoyed the telemark skiing.
“And then as a young adult I transitioned into cross country skiing,” Carr said. “And I’ve always been a huge winter fan.”
And as a cross county skier, she wanted to take on one of the most-celebrated cross county races. Carr and her husband Scott Clippinger of Marshall participated in the 2020 American Birkebeiner 55k race from Cable to Hayward on Feb. 22.
This was Carr’s fifth time participating; it marked Birkie number six for Clippinger. Both have taken part in the event for consecutive years with the exception of 2017, when it was canceled.
Carr and Clippinger didn’t start off by taking on the 55k course, instead, their first event was the 29k Kortelopet.
“Then I just started skiing more and more and becoming a little bit better skier and I wanted to challenge myself,” Carr said.
Carr finds the length of time needed to complete the event to be the most challenging.
“I’m just a citizen skier so it does take me several hours,” she said. “So, it’s basically just getting into that mindset of settling into your skis and just taking it one stride at a time, just one hill at a time. There’s a lot of people along the trail cheering you on and ringing cowbells so it’s always fun to have people on the sidelines encouraging you.”
To help keep the participants energized, there are aid stations throughout the course that are often stocked with bananas and other fruit, cookies, energy drinks, water, and gel energy packets.
“It’s really important to stop at every aid station and rehydrate and get in a little bit of nutrition to carry you to the next (station),” Carr said. “But we usually carry some of those Gu (gel energy) packets and then we carry a water bottle of course.”
She said being a Birkie skier isn’t just participating in the yearly event; it’s a lifestyle. Registration begins in May and knowing the event is coming in February, it reminds the Marshall couple to maintain a healthy lifestyle so they can be in good physical condition for the Birkebeiner.
“We spend the entire year knowing we’re going to be doing these ski events,” Carr said.
Yes, the couple participates in more than just the Birkie. According to Carr, the pair tries to take part in at least one more ski event during the winter though other races are shorter than the northern Wisconsin contest.
To prepare for the Birkie, Carr spends time in the gym during the autumn and winter months. She and her husband also run and bike to keep fit for the Birkie.
“We try to do as much skiing as we can. We ski a lot at Lapham Peak (in the Kettle Moraine State Forest) because it has a lot of hills. You can do the biggest loop over there and get some good hill climbing,” she said adding there was enough snow to hit the trails this winter.
If there is a lack of snow in the state, the Marshall residents will take an overnight trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to put in some time on the trails.
Carr loves the history of the Birkenbeiner – tracing it back to the Norway and then the development of the American version in 1973.
“I’m really proud to be a part of it,” she said. “Once you’ve skied that far and coming down Main Street, it’s such an amazing sense of accomplishment. … As soon as we’re done, we’re already making plans for the next year.”