Ernie St. Germaine is a Birkie Legend and Founder. He has never missed a single racing of the Birkie, making his total race tally 41. And there is no stopping in sight. Ernie says he’ll keep on skiing until he “is no longer smiling when he goes for a ski.” Read on for a question and answer with one of the American Birkie’s most renowned skiers.
What (or who) inspired you to compete in your first Birkie?
Lyman Williamson, a true Norweigan, who was living in Hayward. His wife Edna would not let him ski the first American Birkebeiner because of his age. Lyman then told me I had to “represent him” by skiing the race. I had no idea what I was getting into but one thing I knew, if I was going to do it, my best friend Dave Landgraf was going to do it too so I just told Dave we were doing a race on Saturday morning and to be at the Lumberjack Bowl on Saturday with skis. Edna filled me up with pancakes that morning and Lyman and I went to the race at about 8:45. Dave and I lined up and we started. We finished together, crossing the line and crashing into a heap. Of course we swore it off immediately and pledged never to do anything so foolish ever again but in the 2nd year, Tony (Wise) just said, “You will ski the race again,” and you just never said “No” to Tony. Tony had me working as a Nordic instructor in the ski school at Telemark on weekends and I guess I just fell in love with skiing.
What inspires you now to complete additional Birkies?
With the Birkebeiner always on the back of my mind, I always tried to maintain a good base. And then there was the challenge of trying to keep up with Dave. I beat him one time, the second year but after that year I never ever came close. He was just an incredible athlete. Now the “Legends” of the American Birkebeiner whisper to me almost every single day. It’s not a matter of doing the race in their memory because I always feel they are there beside me every year, encouraging and inspiring me.
What has been your most memorable Birkie experience?
Every American Birkebeiner is memorable and each has held its own personality and unique challenge.
What is your goal time for finishing this year’s Birkie?
As long as it takes.
Has there ever been a time when you didn’t think you’d keep the perfect Birkie streak?
One year I was training for the Northshore Inline Marathon in Duluth and blew up my knee. I had it drained and did therapy and was back inlining and training not long after. I irritated it again in December but skied through it. But then the Sunday before that Birkie, I blew up my knee again. I had it drained that Monday morning and judging by the amount of swelling figured my Birkebeiner skiing was finished. However, therapy all week and a knee brace with some medication, I skied that race one-legged. Fortunately we had a cold firm track and I finished. A week later I was on the operating table and had a bi-lateral replacement. This enabled me to get back training again and skiing the race. Other than that, I guess I have been pretty lucky.
How do you train for the birkie?
I am not a fast skier. Maybe I was once but not anymore. I never ski to see how fast I can go. I just go out every day if I can and ski. Sometimes a two hour ski, other times a three or four hour ski. Then I always do a long one about two weeks before each race. In the fall I do quite a bit of pole hiking out at Winter Park Ski Area in Minocqua. I am not one to sit around very long. I am pretty active. Every now and then I wear a heart monitor to see how I am doing and where I am in terms of aerobic endurance and capacity. My goal is to ski the race and enjoy it. When I used to coach baseball, I always asked my athletes on the first day what their goal is. Then I always asked them what is the first word an umpire yells to start a game? They would answer, “play ball!” Then I ask, but what is the first word? They finally answer “play.” I would say, “yes! Play.” To have fun. If you are mad, kicking the dirt, cussing, wanting to fight, that tells me you are not having fun. Chances are you won’t last long on my team if you aren’t smiling, laughing and having fun. I have done my best to apply that to my skiing and enjoyment of the American Birkebeiner. Should the day come that I am no longer smiling when I go for a ski, then I will hang em up for the last time. But so far every time I go for a ski, I am able to say I love it.
I’m still brainstorming for next week’s article, but I promise “F” will be there for the 6th installment of the Annie’s Birkie Countdown!