Jon Schumacher of Hartland said he caught "Birkie fever" the first time he did the cross country ski race 24 years ago.
Feb. 22, he celebrated a milestone — skiing the event for the first time with his 76-year-old father and 13-year-old son, who both share his name but go by Jack. The eldest Schumacher hails from Brookfield.
"Seeing the sense of accomplishment in my son's eyes, and the joy in my dad's eyes having competed with his son and grandson, was what made this a great day for me," Jon said.
The team battled extremely low temperatures and high wind speeds, which delayed their start time and allowed them all to start together, despite having been assigned to different waves.
It was the first time the youngest Schumacher, an eighth-grader at Divine Redeemer Lutheran School, was eligible to participate in the Kortelopet race. At 23 kilometers, it is about half the length of the premiere Birkebeiner.
New to such a long race, which took about three hours to complete, the younger Jack said it was a challenge, and it felt like it was mostly uphill.
"It was really cold that day. My fingers and toes were freezing," Jack said. "But after the first rest stop they started to warm up and I was like, 'This might be fun after all.'"
Encouraged by volunteers and fans lining the track, Jack said, by the end of the race he understood why his dad and grandpa liked it so much.
"At the end, there was a huge downhill, and I flew down that, and then I see my mom and grandma and all my brothers and sisters down there, and that was a really good feeling," Jack said. "It was really fun because my grandpa's getting older and might not be able to do that many more years. It was really fun seeing him do that."
The elder Jack said, "God willing," he hopes to have more Birkie races ahead of him, but the inability to know that for certain makes him appreciate the opportunity he had Saturday even more.
"It was really special," he said. "It's just a real joy, and I'm very grateful to be able to do the race with family members. It's not too often you can have three generations doing an event together, especially such a strenuous one."
The races demand advance training, and the elder Jack said he and his family try to get out to other cross county courses around the state about once a week. He hopes to keep up his endurance and have the chance to ski alongside other grandchildren in future Birkies.
"It's getting harder and harder for my dad to do, but he keeps chugging along," Jon said.
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