Cowbells for Hermann // Positively Speaking // Mark Wilson

For fifteen years, I’ve been a Birkie cowbell ringer and it has become a family tradition.  Each year, I take one or two of my kids to the finish line on Main Street and we cheer the weary skiers on.

A day or two before the American Birkebeiner, I always pine a little — wishing I had pulled the skis from the rafters, and could join with the 9000 or so others testing the limits of their endurance.

But, as Birkie day arrives, I am contented to ring the cowbells.  After all — if EVERYBODY skied the Birkie, there wouldn’t be anybody cheering. We ALL need somebody to cheer us on, and so, I’m willing to lay other aspirations aside and do my part.

Last year, after dusk, my daughter, Hannah, asked if we could go back down to the finish line.  “The race is over, now, honey.” I tried to explain.  “Please??”  she pleaded, “It MIGHT not be over yet.”

So, against all odds, we packed up our cowbells and made our way to Main Street.  When we arrived, a busy crew was removing the snow, and shutting everything down.

“See, we’re too late. . .” I began to explain, when a worker with a hand radio, suddenly shouted, “Wait!  There are two more skiers coming in!”

Sure enough, long after the other racers, 91 year old, Hermann Nunnemacher, finished the 12K Prince Haakon race, accompanied by his 42 year old wife, Erika.  Midway, Hermann fell and fractured four ribs, but he got back up and kept plodding forward!

With the crowds of spectators long gone, Hannah and I were the only cowbell ringers left — and we rang them for Hermann.  We rang them loudly and furiously, with all our might!

For a few minutes, the workers stopped to shout and cheer.  Some passerby’s also joined in the magical moment.  Hermann crossed the finish line and we all cried.

The next Wednesday Hermann’s picture graced the front page of the Sawyer County Record, and I thought that was fantastic!

It’s the only time in local history, when a person who came in last place made the front page of the paper!

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