Sam’s Club stores can smile big time after their first foray into United States Snowshoe Association racing yielded such sensational results. As East Side Neighborhood Services Development Director, Ruth Ann Weiss, exclaimed, “This is the most exciting year of our snowshoe racing history. Snowshoers came out in record numbers. And the day! A good snow blanket, blue sky sun and warming into the 20’s made it perfect.”
The urban course, set in the spacious, lovely Long Lake Park, New Brighton, Minnesota, a north central suburb of the Twin Cities, won racer accolades. The layout featured a funnel start of about 1/10th of a mile converting immediately to woodsy single track. This led to some real hustle up front as one could easily get left behind if stuck behind a racer who was not at pace, particularly since both the 5km and 10km classes started simultaneously — a record 165 entrants. The ensuing route finished the 5km portion; the 10km skipped the opening funnel and looped the loop again to make its distance.
Roughly, each circuit was made up of single track at the start, one part snow covered frozen lake, one part closing single track, with the opening single track by far the longest stretch. Racers raved about the single track, particularly portions that were tight but fast, yielding some good tree bumping as one twisted and turned through the forests . . . a kind of sensation downhill skiers must feel as they brush against the markers while cutting down their course. Tim Zbikowski, 5km winner, summarizing the lay out, said “The most fun is the single track. The most tiring is on the lake.”
Crossing railroad tracks several times was a nonevent as volunteers had built good snow packs across the rails. The marking and layout, led by Bruce LaMere of LaMere Concrete, Inc., was particularly notable as previous years’ weather had kept the course out of the woods. Bruce described the reasoning behind using a double loop for the 10km versus an extension that leads to the north in the park so it would be one continuous run: “We couldn’t use the north end this year, even though there was plenty of snow cover, as a restoration of Rice Creek has the area closed.” Joyce LaMere plays a key role in the success of the dynamic East Side Neighborhood Services.
Proceeds of this race support Camp Bovey, a summer resident camp for boys and girls ages 8-14, located near Gordon Township, Wisconsin.
10KM SAM’S CLUB SNOWSHOE SHUFFLE USSSA QUALIFIER
Pre race favorite, Scott Gall, Cedar Falls, Iowa, and USSSA National Team member, did not disappoint as he blistered the twisting layout in 40:39, leading from the get-go. Scott opened the qualifying season this year at Rib Lake, Wisconsin, with a rousing victory but today’s win, on the last qualifying day of the season before the PowerSox National Championship at Snowbridge Resort, Utah, showed he is ready to challenge for the top. “This was a good tune up,” he commented at the awards party. Asked about the altitude difference in Utah, about a mile up in elevation from the Midwest, Scott feels his time living in Colorado paid off. “After being there for a number of years, when I go to altitude it just doesn’t seem to bother me, so I don’t think it will make a difference. I don’t feel it affects me so much.” Scott has been working intensely by training for the X-Terra triathlons although his weekend in SnowBasin is focused 100% on the National Championship race.
Second overall and winner of his class, Kelly Mortenson, St. Paul, showed the form that led to his 11th place finish at the 2000 Olympic marathon qualifier. The best racing of the day occurred for third place overall as Kasey Schmitt, part of the Cedar Falls contingent, won his class with a 44:09, beating Antonio Holquin, Seneca, South Carolina, across the line by less than two seconds. Antonio, who has a stint living in Colorado like Scott, makes the Snowshoe Shuffle his qualifier of choice from his Southern home, coming here last year to earn his trip to the Nationals. He had so much fun enjoying this race and the people that this year he came back and introduced his fiancée.
Seconds behind Antonio’s class winning run was the third member of the Iowa group, Andrew Westendorf, winning a second place plaque in class for his effort. Scott Gall said, “Among these three there was quite a bit of moving back and forth.” With the double loop course, spectators had good vantage points to observe the racers multiple times.
The Koutsky father/son team had an exciting day as Dan, a 16 year old, youngest male in the 10km field, beat his dad, Dennis, 51, over the line by eight seconds. Dan showed National Championship form running down the course’s big hill where dad fell on the last loop; up and back at ‘em, Dennis then passed a 10km racer between them at a small opening in the single track not far from the finishing sprint, as a much slower 5km racer with a leashed dog created just enough diversion for him to make the pass. “We always race the finish though Dan seems to always win. Dan has been snowshoeing since he was nine and ran the Northwood 10km (now a USSSA Qualifier). This year we did their half-marathon.” These two are readily recognizable at area events as they wear for their head gear wildly colored boxer shorts won at the Northwood some years ago. If Wisconsin snowshoers are ‘cheese heads,’ are these two ‘bloomer heads?’
Author of “Zenith Secret”, Brad Ayers, Frederic, Wisconsin, won his class as oldest competitor in the 10km field. He expressed his gratitude to the sport, and life, by saying, “Every time I get to race is a blessing. Showing up and finishing is what it is all about.”
Jim Graupner, 63, Lake Elmo, completed yet another USSSA Qualifier, likely setting a record for most qualifiers completed in one season not only for 2008 but for Association history. At last count, his unofficial tally of six (!) Qualifiers include the season’s first race and this race on the last day of qualifying. His winning medals and plaques are filling up his car.
Edward Rousseau, 68, Minneapolis, wowed the onlookers during the warm-up by wearing his four feet long wooden snowshoes with home made bindings. He uses this set during training.
Sara Gall, Scott’s wife, made her Atlas Snowshoe sponsors proud by dusting the women’s field with a 48:22, and dusting the big majority of the men’s, too. “I felt really good today, right off at the start.” Sara missed getting to race some of the top female competitors today as this date conflicts with the Birkie in nearby Hayward, Wisconsin. “I missed Cindy (Brochman),” 2006 National Team member, who was doing the XC thing today. Sara is a factor to compete for a slot on the National Team. Of the women’s team of five members, selected from the five top finishers in the 2007 National Championship held in Maple Grove, Minnesota, Sara finished sixth.
Continuing the trend among National Team members and Age Class Medalists to race multiple USSSA Qualifiers, even though many have byes into the National Championships, todays race counts as Sara’s third of the season. As previously noted, Scott has been in two, only missing the Iowa Qualifier, the one he founded, by a church obligation. Having current and past champions race the Qualifiers is critical to these events as it raises the level of competition and excitement plus reflects the dedication of these champions to the sport.
Mary Ross, St. Paul, a young 41 but the oldest in the women’s field, won the class plaque plus posted a strong second overall with a finish just over 1:01. A terrific finish by Becky Monnens, Minneapolis, by less than one second over Juliette Peterson, St. Louis Park, finished off the third and fourth place women. Becky won her 20-29 class as Juliette won the 30-39 class.
13 year old Georgia Northcutt from Eyota finished in a terrific 1:12. Both Georgia and Dan Koutsky should be planning to race the USSSA National Junior Snowshoe Championships.
Page Johnson, Hopkins, racing with fiancée’ Christopher Kinner, Minneapolis, (3rd place, 20-29 class), took second in the women’s 20-29 class. This is their first year snowshoe racing. Christopher said Page looked askance at him at the Northwood Qualifier as temps fell to minus double digits, perhaps questioning his sanity. As Page called out while on the race course zipping past a competitor on a downhill single track, “This crazy adventure called snowshoeing,” she nailed this sport’s appeal.
SNOWSHOE SHUFFLE 5KM
Tim Zbikowski easily won this race with a finishing time of 27:26. “I didn’t know I was leading until the 10K racers turned to start their second loop, and I was the only one left to head to the finish.” Highly experienced, Tim, 56, gave a good snowshoeing lesson to the entire 5km field.
Seasoned snowshoe racer, John Deltoro, 39, Apple Valley, took second overall and won his class, finishing 16 ticks behind Tim.
Junior National Team member and International Snowshoe racer, Michayla Heil, 16 of Medford, Wisconsin, won the women’s category and finished third overall, with a strong 30:19. Her father, Steve, 42, won second in his 10km race class. Michayla should once again be a factor at the PowerSox National Championships.
Nic Nett, Minneapolis, won the 20-29 class at 37:04. Finishing just behind him, and winning the 50-59 class is long time snowshoer Jeff Shields of Edina.
The Men’s junior racers ranged from age 10 through 19, the five entrants led by Christopher Meehan, 19, Mounds View. Ten year olds Noor Abdirahman and Terell Sroll, both of St. Paul, finished the event.
Tom Spurrier, 71, White Bear Lake (Remember the line “Go Bears” as was uttered in the movie ‘Fargo’?), led Stan Roga, 74, Minneapolis, at the finish.
Tom and Carolyn Wingfield, Atlanta, Georgia, came a long way to race snowshoes in Minnesota. Tom took an age class silver finish but Carolyn beat him across the line by several minutes.
Women’s Junior racers numbered four with Rebecca Thwing, 14, Plymouth, winning with a 49:07. Katee Thwing, 43, finished third in her class at 56:17.
Carol Klitzke, Maple Grove, won the 60-69 category with a strong 40:44. Carol allowed her living room to become a temporary warehouse of goods at last year’s National Championship. Tara Konat, 29, St. Louis Park, finished second overall and won her class, leading Corinne Glau, Minneapolis, second in class, across the finish. Jodie Farmer, 36, finished next, winning the class, and led Nicki Kinner, 26, Minneapolis (see brother Christopher 10km), a plaque winner herself, to the finish.
The New Brighton VFW hosts the awards chili banquet, and the room is packed with racers, family, volunteers and tables full of silent auction items. These donated items are all a part of the fund raising nature of this Qualifier. Another, renting snowshoes donated by Red Feather and Joe’s Sporting Goods, add $5 a piece to the donation pool. Over 50 pair were rented. Having new snowshoers experience their first race on Red Feathers is a great example of the ground floor, guerilla marketing this sport requires in order to continue its growth.
Another are visionary businesses like the St. Louis Park and Fridley Sam’s Club stores who stepped up big time to become the Naming Sponsor for the 2008 Snowshoe Shuffle. Speaking to the crowd after the awards, Sam’s Club marketing executive, Cheryl Fauteck-Olsen said, “An awesome, awesome experience today.” Cheryl is in a unique position to identify the advantages of sponsoring the East Side Neighborhood Services’ ever growing Snowshoe Shuffle. “My mother snowshoes and I’m going to get her involved in this great event. And the organization itself is just amazing. I’m so happy they gave us the opportunity.”
With this kind of recognition of service to the community, and its attendant marketing benefits, one can easily conclude the Sam’s Club stores have the drive and spirit to keep their growth intact by helping the community through unique sponsorships like the E.S.N.S. Snowshoe Shuffle.
As the East Side Royalty composed of four charming, costumed young women (Jane Riley, Laurenareisha Morrissette, Emily Zaworski, Camille O’Reilly) smilingly greet finishers as they cross the line and then hand out all of the awards, handmade wooden plaques, at the VFW, one senses the true meaning of all that is going on here. Intermixed with a National Qualifying Championship snowshoe race is a sense of neighborhoods and accomplishment combined with enthusiasm and spirit of all sorts. Maybe that’s the real undercurrent of what Brad Ayers was meaning when he said, “Every time I get to snowshoe is a blessing.” The real blessing is getting to soak up this warmth, this ‘feeling of being’ experienced by all who came and experienced the 2008 Sam’s Club Snowshoe Shuffle.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
East Side Neighborhood Services http://www.esns.org
United States Snowshoe Association http://www.snowshoeracing.com
Phillip Gary Smith http://www.ultrasuperior.com