Skiing into the 13th century
Longtime friends honoring history at 2009 Birkebeiner

By KATHERINE MICHALETS - GM Today Staff 

January 6, 2009


Holding wooden skis and wearing metal helmets, Jeff Cummisford, left, and Richard Pierce dress in costumes replicating 13th-century Norwegian warriors while at Lapham Peak State Park. The two are preparing to participate in this year’s American Birkebeiner cross county ski race in February dressed as the warriors who rescued Prince Haakon during Norway’s civil war in 1206. The doll Pierce is holding represents the prince.


WAUKESHA - On Feb. 21, Jeff Cummisford and Richard Pierce will cast off their modern clothes and don 13th-century Norwegian warrior costumes to re-enact the legend upon which the American Birkebeiner cross country ski race is based.

Cummisford, of Waukesha, and Pierce, of Verona, will wear metal helmets, carry swords and shields, and use wooden skis as they make their way along a 54-kilometer trail from Cable to Hayward. Pierce’s daughter, Lyndsey Lewis of Fort Collins, Colo., will ski with them portraying a Norwegian princess, and her son, Piercen, 1, will meet them at the finish as the famous Prince Haakon that the Norwegian warriors saved during the country’s civil war in 1206.

"I know it was important to them," Lewis said of why the men wanted to re-enact the legend. "And it’s their 25th year of skiing the Birkie, and I think it was symbolic of their friendship and our families’ friendship."

Lewis, Pierce and Cummisford each wrote an essay telling why their families should be selected to portray these famous Scandinavians that the Birkebeiner memorializes.


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Cummisford said he and Pierce have been friends for 25 years, introduced to each other by their children, Lewis and Kevin Cummisford. 2009 will be the 25th year Pierce participates in the Birkie and Cummisford’s 23rd.

"Dick and I thought it would be a fun way to give back to the Birkie and be ambassadors for the spirit of the Birkie," Cummisford said.

Normally, it takes the friends a little over three hours to ski the Birkie, but with their 20-pound costumes, wooden skis and stops to socialize, they are expecting it to take about double that amount of time.

According to the Birkebeiner Web site - www.birkie.com - about 8,000 skiers will participate and 20,000 spectators will be present.

Also present will be Pierce’s parents, who are in their 80s, and members of both the Pierce and Cummisford families.

Pierce, 55, said he enjoys cross country skiing because of his ability to be outside and to get physical exercise in winter. He said he began to ski when Lewis was a baby, and he would carry her on his back until she began to ski at about age 4. His two sons, Richard and Ted, later followed on skis.

Cummisford, 57, started the Lapham Peak Ski League and the Waukesha West High School Cross Country Ski Team, on which Pierce served as assistant coach. Cummisford also encouraged his children, Krista and Kevin, to participate. In fact, it was through Kevin Cummisford and Lewis’ friendship that Jeff Cummisford and Richard Pierce became friends.

Now, after years of friendship the two men wanted to honor the sport that helped bring them together.

"He and I have literally skied around the world, and we’ve been friends for 25 years. And we’ve done many wacky things together, and this is going to be one more in a long strand of wacky things," Pierce said.

Cummisford and Pierce ski several times per week in preparation for the Birkie, in addition to biking and other physical activities in the off-season. Lewis said she runs and tries to ski as often as possible for the long cross country ski race.

"It’s to pay back the gratitude and to encourage the other skiers who are doing it, maybe for the first time," Pierce said.

At a glance

What: The American Birkebeiner cross country ski race

Who: about 8,000 skiers and 20,000 spectators from around the world

When: Feb. 21

Where: 50 to 54 kilometers from Cable to Hayward

More info: www.birkie.com

E-mail: kmichalets@conleynet.com



This story appeared in The Freeman on January 6, 2009.