Hudson attorney to ski Birkebeiner for his sisterArea News
-- Mark Gherty has added motivation to reach the finish of the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race on Feb. 25.
By: Randy Hanson, Pierce County Herald
Mark Gherty has added motivation to reach the finish of the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race on Feb. 25.
He’ll be skiing the 50-kilometer (31-mile) race from Telemark Lodge to Hayward for his sister Barbara Morris of Eugene, Ore.
Five years ago, Barbara was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease shortly after losing her husband, Maurice, to virile encephalitis.
Gherty learned about Team Fox, an organization founded by actor Michael J. Fox that raises money for Parkinson’s research, and decided to use future Birkie races for the same purpose.
This will be the 24th Birkie that Gherty has finished, and the fourth time that he has skied it for his sister and Team Fox.
“She’s always been one of my biggest cheerleaders. She’s the one I call after the race and let her know how it went,” Gherty said of his decision to ski in Barbara’s honor.
She was planning to be on Hayward’s Main Street for the finish of this year’s race, but some additional health complications prevented her from traveling.
For her 70th birthday, Barbara’s sons David and Kevin offered her the gift of a trip to Hawaii or some other vacation spot. But Barbara said she wanted to go to Wisconsin in February and see her younger brother finish the Birkebeiner.
Even though Barbara won’t be at the finish line this year, she’ll be on Gherty’s mind as he skis the race.
“As long as I can keep skiing, I’ll ski for (her),” he said.
30 years and counting
This year’s Birkebeiner weekend (Feb. 23-25) will be the 30th consecutive one that Gherty and his wife, Maeta, have participated in. Maeta doesn’t ski, but enjoys the activities that surround the largest cross-country ski race in North America.
The Birkie and its related races attract some 9,000 skiers each year, including elite racers from around the world.
Gherty skied the shorter Kortelopet race (23 kilometers) four times -- twice with his son, Collin.
One year, Gherty tried to ski the Birkie while suffering with bronchitis and had to drop out at the halfway point. Another year, the race was canceled due to a lack of snow.
The 59-year-old Hudson attorney bought his first pair of cross-country skis in 1973, when he was student at UW-River Falls. After he and Maeta returned from Sioux Falls, S.D., where he attended law school, Gherty started cross-country skiing at Willow River State Park with Hudsonites Dave Gorman and Jeff Hitchcock.
In 1983, the three of them decided to have a go at the Birkebeiner. Gorman’s wife, Barb, also skied it.
“It got to be one of those things” you didn’t want to miss, Gherty said. “There’s a song about how the Birkie gets into your soul. There’s just something about that weekend. It’s just a wonderful time.”
The race was started in 1973 by Tony Wise, the former owner of the Telemark Ski Area near Cable. It commemorates a famous event from 1206 in Norway when two Birkebeiner soldiers on skis smuggled the 18-month-son of King Haakon Sverresson from Lillehammer to Trondheim.
The Birkebeiners were impoverished peasants in a civil war, who often wore birch bark leggings in winter. The name means “birch legs.”
Gherty appreciates that Wise incorporated not only Nordic skiing traditions in Birkebeiner events, but also those of the Native Americans of northern Wisconsin.
The race is one of 15 worldwide that is sponsored by the Worldloppet Ski Federation, the international sports federation of cross-country skiing marathons.
The Ghertys have been joined by Dave and Barb Gorman in nearly all 30 of their Birkebeiner weekends. This year, Ernie and Rita Wallin will accompany them, too.
They’re staying at Mogaheen Resort on Lake Namekagon, as they have for the past several years.
At his age, it takes year-round training to be ready for a Birkie, Gherty said.
The lack of snow this winter hasn’t made it easy, but he works out on an elliptical machine at the Y and ice-skates with Maeta on the John Rose Ice Oval in Roseville, Minn.
In the warm months, he in-line skates and rides bicycle.
Gherty knows he’ll be well back in the pack in this year’s Birkie, but that doesn’t bother him.
“You’re literally on the clock against yourself,” he said. The competition is against the elements and your own frailty.
Last year’s Birkebeiner was the hardest of them all for Gherty, mainly because the temperature that was 8 degrees below zero at its start and 3 above when he reached Hayward.
Four hours, 25 minutes is his best time for the race. He switched from classic stride-skiing to skate-skiing around 20 years ago.
“I can’t describe the feeling. It’s really an emotional thing,” Gherty said of reaching the end of a Birkie. “You beat yourself up for four-and-a-half to six-plus hours, and then you come down Main Street and all of these people are cheering you on and congratulating you. It’s just a great feeling.”
Gherty is impressed with Team Fox because since 2005 more than 90 percent of its money has been targeted to translating scientific discoveries about Parkinson’s into new treatments.
“It’s really directed towards the researchers and the docs (doctors),” he said of the fundraising organization started by Michael Fox, who also has Parkinson’s disease.
The first year Gherty raced for Team Fox, he raised more than $1,000, and the amount has grown each year since this. His goal this year is $5,000. According to his Team Fox web page, he’s at $3,740.
His lifetime fundraising total for the organization is currently at $12,356, according to the web page.
This year, gifts from new donors and money given in excess of previous donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife, Anne Wojcicki.
To donate online go to www.teamfox.org and click on “Support a Member.” Type in Gherty’s name and then click on his name when it appears. That will bring you to his web page. Follow the directions for making a donation by credit card.
Gherty also is taking checks made out to The Michael J. Fox Foundation.