On February 8, 1997, Glenda Hanna wrapped her son Pearce in layers, put him in a backpack baby carrier and skied with the five-and-a-half month old baby in the Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival at Cooking Lake’s Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area.
According to Hanna, she was the first person in history to carry an infant during the Birkebeiner, a cross-country skiing race that honours a key moment in Norway’s history, when two warriors carried Norway’s infant heir to the throne 55 kilometres during winter to save him from civil war. The Birkebeiner Ski Festival began in Norway in 1932, but now there are events around the globe.
Hanna, member and the past president of the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club (an organization that offers coaching and racing programs), began skiing as a university student, competing in several provincial cross-country skiing competitions.
And while all competitions come with their share of challenges, she says, the full 55-km Birkie is especially difficult, even for those who prepare. Her training regimen includes building up her stamina, eventually skiing 40 km at least once prior to the Birkebeiner. All that hard work’s paid off – she won the event six times prior to Pearce’s birth and continues to win or place in her age category almost every year.
Pearce doesn’t remember being carried during his first Birkie, but he still has a knack for skiing. The 16-year-old competes in biathlons, a combination of cross country skiing and rifle shooting, and is a member of the Alberta Development cross-country skiing team. On February 8, he’ll compete in his second 31-kilometre Birkebeiner.
Glenda is thrilled Pearce inherited her passion for the sport, even though she has a harder time keeping up with him now. “Maybe that’s as it should be,” says Glenda. “Call it the ‘Birkie’ circle of life.”