'A dream come true'
Roughly 13 years ago, when his daughter Elise was born, cross-country skiing enthusiast Paul Lohmann wondered if they would ever race the Birkebeiner together.
This year, it finally happened.
Lohmann skied his 29th consecutive 50-kilometer American Birkebeiner skate race in Hayward, Wis., at the end of February. However, this year stood out from all others, because his daughter Elise, now 13, was skiing alongside him.
"I think it was really a dream come true for both of us to stand together at the starting line of that big race," Paul Lohmann said. "I think every parent has kind of a hidden dream that their children will maybe have some of the same passions that they have. One of my passions is cross country skiing and it was definitely fun to have Elise right there."
The American Birkebeiner, also known as the Birkie, is the largest cross-country ski race in North America and part of the Worldloppet circuit of 15 international ski marathons held in Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, France, Estonia, Germany, Austria, Finland, Italy, Canada, Australia, Czech Republic, Poland and the United States.
The American Birkebeiner was launched in 1973 as a small race calling on skiers to challenge themselves against the Wisconsin north woods. Now, skiers from approximately 48 states and 21 countries gather every February to celebrate and ski the race, which has become the most revered tradition in the cross-country ski world.
After skiing in the children's Barnebirkie race 11 times in the past, this year, Elise, who attends Math and Science Academy in Woodbury, was finally old enough to compete in her first Kortelopet 23-kilometer race and the father and daughter were able to ski the first 9 kilometers together. Skiers must be 13 years old to do the 23-kilometer Kortelopet, or "Kortie," and 18 do the full 50K Birkebeiner.
"The trails are together for the first nine kilometers," Paul Lohmann said. "After 9 kilometers, the shorter race starts circling back to the starting line and the Birkebeiner continues down into Hayward. Even though they're two different races, they're really skied together and you see Birkebeiner and Kortelopet skiers side-by-side."
Instead of starting in his assigned Wave 3, Paul waited for Elise in her assigned Wave 9 so they could ski the first 9K together until the Birkie and the Kortie trails split.
Elise finished the 23-kilometer race in 1 hour, 50 minutes, coming in 255th out of 557 female skaters of all ages. Paul had a time of 3 hours, 54 minutes in the 50-kilometer race. Despite the snowy, cold day -- the second coldest Birkie on record with single-digit temps -- Paul Lohmann said it was a wonderful experience.
"It was something I had thought about for a long time and to actually have it happen and for it to be a big success for Elise was just wonderful," Paul Lohmann said.
Elise Lohmann said she'd remember it for the rest of her life.
"It was really fun," she said. "We've done some fun races, but this was the first big race I got to ski with him."
Paul Lohmann started skiing long before his daughter was born. Every year since Elise was born, she's been going to Hayward with her dad. The Lohmanns have videos of her skiing down the streets of Hayward when she was 3 years old.
"It just grew from there and was something she looked forward to doing every year," Paul Lohmann said. "About three or four years ago she got her first pair of skating skis so she could go a little bit faster and she started to wonder if she could do the big race."
During the race, at about the 7-kilometer mark, one of the skiers in front of the Lohmanns fell, but Paul said Elise managed it well, which gave him more confidence that she could handle it.
"She had prepared for it," Paul Lohmann said. "I think she was a little nervous about it. It's a big adventure and a very challenging course. I was confident that she could do it, but you never know for sure until you actually do it. Even though I've done it many times I never take it for granted. There are a lot of things that can happen out there. But, she actually skied faster after she left me. We were laughing that dad was holding her up for the first part of the race."
Over two hours after the father and daughter split up, Paul headed toward the finish line, where he spotted his family.
"When I skied up main street toward the finish line I saw mom and Elise standing on the side of the road and Elise held up her medal showing me that she had finished the Kortelopet -- I was just thrilled to see that," Paul Lohmann said. "They greeted me at the finish line and we had a big hug together."
Days after the race, Paul wondered if Elise would want to do it again. However, his hopes were confirmed when he saw a white board in Elise's bedroom counting down the days to next year's Kortie.
"I think she felt awfully good about skiing 23 kilometers," Paul Lohmann said. "I have to say that I really admired her for that. She's a great skier and it was just a wonderful day. I think the best part of it for me was that she truly enjoyed it and wanted to do it again."
In five years, Elise will be 18 and will have the opportunity to ski in the 50K Birkie. Paul said he hopes they get a chance to race it together.
"Dad is going to be getting up there," Paul Lohmann said. "By then, I don't think there's any question she'll be a stronger, faster skier than I'll be if she stays with it. So, the question will be whether or not she wants to wait for dad. Hopefully, I'll still be able to do it by then. I know I'd like to. I think both of us have it in the back of our minds."