At this point, Paul Erickson and his college buddies have been racing in the American Birkebeiner more years of their lives than not.
They started racing together on a whim about 45 years ago.
“None of us had really skied,” Erickson said. “We’d all skied about a half a dozen times in our life before that. A guy from the local ski shop came in and talked with our dorm, and then a bunch of us said, ‘Hey, we should do that.’”
Their first race was a 10-miler in 1978. They soon after tripled the challenge in their first American Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country ski race in North America. The race in Hayward, Wisconsin, draws thousands of skiers from across the globe, namely Sweden, Norway and Italy.
Erickson recalls seeing a lot of older people at his first “Birkie.”
“I said ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we were still doing this when we’re old? Like, 45?’” he said with a chuckle. “So that’s a few years ago now. There’s a lot of people that are in their 50s, 60s and 70s that are still doing it.”
A few weeks ago he finished 39th in the Birkie Open Track Classic, a less crowded version of the race that started during the pandemic.
The 64-year-old owner of Erickson Furniture was one of 156 racers to participate in the 54-kilometer (33.6-mile) race on Feb. 22. He finished in just over five hours.
It was his 40th time doing the race, whether open track or standard.
Last year Erickson raced in the Birkie Classic, which is the original, more crowded race. Over the years, he’s tried a few different races and skiing styles, but enjoys the full-length Birkie.
He missed some years, due to injury, illness or personal reasons, but tries to make it out every year. One year, he had a broken hand and wore a cast, so he “just did the shorter one,” which he said is still about 18 miles.
He has no plans to quit. The only time he considered stopping was when his triplet daughters were born three months before the race.
“So, we were not sleeping at all one year,” he said. “And I didn’t hardly work out at all.”
A bit less in shape that year, he decided his only goal was to finish the race and not worry about time.
“That was one of the easier ones because I just took my time and enjoyed it, instead of trying to race,” he said. “Long ago, I quit racing. I still try to go as quickly as I can, but I do it a lot more controlled than I used to.”
He said one of the best parts is the “festive” downtown, which is lined with locals cheering everyone on. Even local snowmobilers don’t mind the race, which cuts through their trail.
“There’s a couple of spots that cross snowmobile trails and the snowmobilers will come by,” he said. “There’s one hill … and it’s kind of a hidden sharp turn. So, there’s a lot of wipeouts there. So, the snowmobilers will bring cards with numbers on them. If it’s a really good wipeout, they’ll put up a 10.”
One of his favorite parts, though, is the “rhythmic motion” when going through the cross-country ski trails. He said it doesn’t feel like a workout until later, because you’re using “balancing” muscles.
Plus, he explained the race is motivation for him to stay fit, and a good reason to keep in touch with his old college friends.
“Part of it is just to say I can still do it,” he said. “And I need something on my calendar to keep me working out.”
Erickson’s sister, Mary Ziegler, praised his athleticism.
“We’re all in awe,” she said. “A lot of us have switched to the shorter one or stopped skiing, you know. But not Paul. He just keeps going.”
What happens after someone is caught breaking the law?
On Thursday afternoon, several staff members of Rice County Community Corrections gave a presentation called “A Walk Through Probation,” which featured the stages before, during and after someone enters the criminal justice system.
The presentation consisted of 15 stations, each representing a different part of the county’s probation process.
“There’s a lot of different intervention opportunities and a lot of places where our staff interact with individuals as they move through the criminal justice system,” said Community Correction Manager Angela Brewer.
“The way that we’ve designed this presentation is we will be walking through the experience that a person in the justice system would have with our department in the order that a person might experience it. Not everyone who goes through the criminal justice system will experience all of these different stations.”
The first station, “Pre-arrest community-based coordinators,” was about what steps are taken to prevent someone from entering the criminal-justice system.
“About 95% of people in jail, really their biggest problem is substance use,” Community Based Coordinator Cindy Selvik said. “So, I spend most of my 40 hours a week getting people lined up to get assessments for treatment … A lot of people in Rice County get furloughs from the judge, which means they can leave jail to go to a treatment program.”
If a subject goes to jail for a lower-level offense, they might be offered the pre-charge adult diversion program. There are a number of qualifiers, like having a clean record and they must admit guilt.
If they don’t qualify for pre-charge adult diversion, then the bail process begins. The bail is set by a judge based on criminal history, the severity of the charge, if the person has a job and kids and several other conditions filed in the Minnesota Pretrial Release Evaluation and Assessment Form.
Court and conditions
Once they’re out on bail and awaiting their court date, accused offenders are required to participate in pretrial supervision and a pre-sentence assessment. Essentially, this step is meant to determine if they pose a risk to the community and keep tabs on them, based on their threat level.
If they are convicted, the sentence may include jail time, prison or probation.
The supervision during probation can be specialized or standard, depending on the individual needs of the person, like if they have domestic-violence problems or are a juvenile.
“Our goal is to have our clients be accountable for the choices that they made, the crimes that they committed,” Rice County probation officer Chelle Marquardt said. “We want to restore victims, to be fully again, so whether that’s a financial, maybe that’s an apology letter. We want them to be positive, contributing members of society.”
One of the newer options for specialized for those struggling with addiction is the Rice County Treatment Court. The approximately two-year program includes treatment and intensive monitoring, including frequent drug testing.
Probation officer Aaron Langer said the program is meant to enhance public safety and encourage accountability.
“We want to reduce recidivism,” Langer said. “I believe the statistics show it’s anywhere from 7.5% to 10% is the drop in that rate... Overall, we want to reduce the social and economic costs of illegal drug activity and we want to establish and support pathways to success for each participant.”
Offenders may also be required to go to cognitive programming groups or one-on-one therapy. Thinking for a Change, the program for men, focuses on three areas: social skills, cognitive self change and problem solving.
The programs “focus on how we interact with one another,” probation officer Kelli Cline said. “And that could include negotiating. It includes how to respond to anger appropriately, and then also how to receive feedback or give feedback to people in our lives.
“We spend time on examining our thoughts and behaviors and our feelings and recognizing where those risk factors pop up. … We look at how to set goals, what goals to set, and how do we meet them, brainstorming different choices. And then, also making plans for the future.”
Moving On, the program for women, focuses on acknowledging but not dwelling on past trauma, according to probation officer Amy Young.
“The Moving On curriculum includes technically six modules, but the main ones include listening and being heard,” Young said. “So we talk about healthy communication skills, building healthy relationships, talking about what’s healthy and what’s not and how to recognize that. We also touch on some domestic-related issues. Then we move on to expressing emotions. Then finally, we work towards making connections and staying healthy.”
Many of the programs lean on community partners, like the HOPE Center or other victim-advocacy organizations around town. According to Behavioral Health Services Unit Supervisor Dante Hummel-Langerfeld, these community partnerships have been the driving force for some of the progressive programs in Rice County, like treatment court.
If an offender violates probation, the Community Corrections team typically works with him or her to understand what happened, in a three-strike system. There is less leniency for offenders who are on supervised release following a prison sentence.