Don Howell of Burlington prepares to compete in his 32nd American Birkebeiner cross country ski race Saturday in Cable. The 77-year-old finished fourth of seven in his age group despite battling leg cramps.

Howell overcomes physical challenge to complete his 32nd Birkebeiner

By Ed Nadolski

Editor in Chief

Wracked by leg cramps that unceremoniously relegated him to his worst time in 32 races, Burlington’s Don Howell had to wonder if Saturday’s American Birkebeiner cross country ski race would be his last.

But by Monday, the sun was shining, yoga class was invigorating and a bike ride was beckoning on a 54-degree February day.

The leg cramps were a distant memory and the intrigue of taking part in America’s premier cross country ski race at the age of 80 had the 77-year-old Howell thinking it may be too soon to take his foot off the gas.

“Am I going to do a Birkie next year? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to do it at 80,” Howell said. “I know one thing, if it’s going to be bad conditions, I can quit (if I cramp up again).”

That Howell finished Saturday after suffering the unrelenting cramps with 12 kilometers to go in the 50-kilometer (31-mile) race is a testament to the resolve of a lifelong athlete whose competitive nature took over.

“I used to be very competitive,” he said. “I would shave right before the race so I’d weigh less.

“At my age, my main goal is to stay vertical and enjoy it,” he continued. “I have to question whether I enjoyed it.”

To read the complete story see the March 1 edition of the Burlington Standard Press. The newspaper is available at retail outlets throughout the area. For weekly delivery click the following link: SUBSCRIBE