TeamOAMNow News

Is Anyone Obligated to Be A Role Model?

June 30th, 2017 by Kaitlyn Patterson

-By Kaitlyn Patterson

My first year of medical school has come to a close and it has left me a lot of things to think about. Besides doing a lot of necessary thinking about anatomy, physiology and disease processes, medical school has made me think critically about priorities- my own as well as those of healthcare and the medical education system.

mtb wc

One reason that I’ve continued to race and train over this year is because it has become one of my default priorities. At this point, I’ve been training consistently for so long that it is a routine part of the day. However, I am well aware that this time is a luxury that will become much harder as my clinical responsibilities continue to increase. I see this reflected in many of the students, residents and physicians around me- personal health suffers as time spent in the hospital increases and sleep, exercise and sunlight decline to minimal to none. Honestly, it scares me and I frequently wonder why it has to be like this. Why are the people who are supposedly healing others, so blatantly defying the most basic aspects of health?

This paradox was illustrated in a small group session we had about physical activity and lifestyle counseling. A discussion prompt was, “Should physicians be physically active and practice good lifestyle choices to be a role model for patients?”  The reactions from others to this prompt ranged from an obvious yes to significant reservation. The time crunch argument was a big one- how can taking care of yourself be a priority when there are always more patients to see? The Hippocratic Oath does say that the patient comes before yourself but at what point should the line be drawn? Another interesting point was the liberty to separate personal life from professional life- that our own choices should be separate from what we do as a physician. However, this seems like a very grey area because they are difficult philosophies to separate.

Ultimately, nobody is obligated to be a role model but I think that it should be a considered a privilege and something to strive for.  Role models can be powerful influences on other people and communities, sometimes without even realizing it.  My Athletic Mentors teammates represent a range of occupations but have all earned a great deal of respect as professionals, people, and role models. I think a big contributing factor in this is prioritizing health and devotion to participating in and sharing their sport.

AM train

There are no absolute answers to any of these questions. However, to me it is obvious that the culture needs to change somehow. Because as much as physicians and other healthcare professionals are working and sacrificing, it is not currently reflected in better health outcomes- for patients or health professionals.  I’m not exactly sure where the changes in healthcare and medicine need to originate, but a workforce full of true role models working to shift the paradigm towards prevention would be a great start.

Team Athletic Mentors Ready to Triumph with Greenware Multisport Sponsorship

March 24th, 2017 by Team AM OAM
Watch for Team Athletic Mentors new look at a Multisport race near you this year.

Watch for Team Athletic Mentors new look at a Multisport race near you this year.

Athletic Mentors — the training and team management company responsible for getting Michigan triathletes known across the region as “podium performers” — is delighted to launch its newest team partnership catering to Michigan multisport events and active living.

The team core of Michigan amateur triathletes, cyclists, runners and Nordic skiers will be suiting up with presenter-level support from Greenware for the 2017 season. It’s the beginning of a partnership that promises to ‘keep it green’ in Michigan.

“Greenware is in it for the long haul and so are we. It’s a perfect pairing with a forward-thinking brand designed to preserve earth’s resources while providing on-the-go packaging,” said team Manger Cheryl Sherwood of Athletic Mentors.

Greenware is a registered trademark of FabriKal, a Kalamazoo packaging company that caters to restaurant, event and entertainment service with an exclusive line of annually renewable drink cups, lids, portion containers and on-the-go boxes made entirely from plants. FabriKal is privately held and home to more than 800 employees.

For 2017, Athletic Mentors has elected to be the title sponsor for the team in keeping with the expansion of its Richland training facility, which now serves both elite athletes as well as regular active lifestyle seekers. With the expansion, AM now offers adult fitness programs, classes, metabolic testing and sporting camps. Previously, Athletic Mentors has managed the award-winning Bissell cycling team, the Priority Health Team and OAM-Now.

“Athletic Mentors is in a growth phase, and there’s no better way to show people what we do than titling the team – the proof is on the podium, so to speak,” Sherwood said.  The new Athletic Mentors-Greenware Team will feature the same core of talent as prior iterations such as OAM and Priority Health teams.

“With the support of Greenware, we will take this organization to the next level in multisport performance. Our goal is to motivate Michiganders to get off the couch and hit the road or trail.”

Headed by John Kittredge, Greenware’s company ethos includes active living in Michigan’s environmentally preserved trails and natural resources.

“Anything we can do to promote active, healthy lifestyles in Michigan fits with our company mission to act responsibly as corporate citizens and contribute to both the well-being of our communities and the environment overall,” says Kittredge, himself a competitive cyclist.

“Our family has been innovative in environmental stewardship and alternate transportation, and we’d love to help motivate our employees and neighbors toward healthy lifestyles that indirectly impact both sectors. Learning to value the environment does not come from sitting on the couch,” Kittredge said.

In addition to team registration at numerous multisport events across Michigan this year, from Barry Roubaix to Michigan Titanium, the two companies also look forward to community outreach through appearances at schools, community events and athletic clinics.

For more information on Team events, opportunities or appearances, visit

For a media interview or speaker scheduling, contact
Cheryl Sherwood, Co-Owner
Athletic Mentors
or email:


Athletic Mentors LLC, is a west Michigan-based athletic training and sports management company that offers individual training, team training programs, clinics, elite hockey programs and sports management services.  For more information about Athletic Mentors or becoming a supporter, visit

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The Joy Ride

October 9th, 2016 by Marie Dershem

Every fall, coming off a long spring/summer season of racing, I find myself less interested in hard workouts and more interested in just riding. In season, my rides have focus and purpose. As the weather turns colder and the leaves begin to change, I find my mind and body longing to ride – simply for the pure joy or riding. It is a difficult shift for me as I love to train and race. But, I also have learned that pushing through the longing for rest results in burnout. If I want to be fully ready for racing next summer, I need to take time to joy ride.
image1Colorburst Tour, sponsored by the Rapid Wheelmen, offers the perfect opportunity for a pure joy ride. This event, which starts and ends at the beautiful Fallasburg Park, offers distances ranging from 17 to 100 miles, with gravel riding options as well. With a pancake breakfast before the ride, SAG support, refueling stops, and a warm meal after the ride, it creates an incredibly enjoyable day.
This year, with a full blue sky, crisp cool air, and a good dose of fall breezes, I rode 100 miles of beautiful Michigan countryside. Across rolling hills and flat farmland, I let go of all speed and power expectations and focused on the pure joy I feel as I roll along with no agenda except to take in the beauty surrounding me.image2
At the end of the day, I felt full of gratitude for a healthy body, a bike I love, beautiful, quiet roads, fall colors, and friends to chat with along the way. And, pure JOY.

The Biggest Test Yet

August 7th, 2016 by Kaitlyn Patterson

–By Kaitlyn Patterson, Team OAM NOW cyclist

Over the past several years, I’ve tackled many athletic challenges I had previously thought beyond my ability. It has been a rewarding journey and it has been fun to learn the technicalities of new sports and become involved in these communities.  However, no race or training program I’ve completed yet will compare to the challenge that is staring me in the face right now.

DrKPatOn August 1st, I began medical school at University of Michigan.  After the application process and deferring an additional year, this has been an event in the distance for so long now that it is a bit surreal that it is actually happening.

There has been a lot of information to take in and process this week but there are a couple themes I thought were especially relevant to share here.


My goal is to continue to train and make it to several mountain bike races through the fall. When I told people this leading up to the school year, I received a range of reactions from derision to support. However, after the first week of orientation, I was pleased with how much the faculty and leadership pushed the idea of balance. With startlingly high rates of burnout, job dissatisfaction and even suicide among physicians, leaders in the field are now acknowledging that the environment can be consuming and toxic. Often retaining a life outside of medicine can be the crucial component to a sustainable career.

I was happy and a bit surprised about this attitude, especially at a school like Michigan.  The real test though will come in the next several weeks and months when “drinking from the fire hose” of information begins in earnest.  My plan is to utilize an indoor trainer more and to try to be intentional and efficient with my training time.  The tricky part is there will always be more information to learn and many competing priorities and I have to figure out where to draw the line. But this line doesn’t get easier to draw after school or after residency so it is something that will take deliberate practice starting now.  This balancing act is not unique to me or medical students though. Everyone, especially people trying to balance any level of racing and training with work, family, and other obligations need to practice their own deliberate balancing act.

patterson arcadia16

Imposter syndrome

One phenomenon I have been reminded of this week is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a term coined by two American psychologists as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” Attending an elite medical school means I am surrounded by brilliance. It has been great to meet the people I will get to know very well over the next four years as we all take on this challenge together. However, learning about others makes it easy to fall into questioning if I deserve to be here, especially with a relatively non-traditional background.

This phenomenon can be rampant in endurance sports as well. Whether this is racing for the first time or signing up for a new discipline or race distance, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you don’t belong or are not at the same caliber of the people around you.  Confidence is a fickle friend that can be easily shaken. However, confidence is one aspect of racing that can be just as crucial to results as training or fueling.  It takes exceptional mental discipline to build and protect this confidence and use it for good and not let it grow to arrogance.

Life has changed a lot in the last month and will continue to change and evolve until I can find a rhythm and routine. My hope is I can continue to do the things I enjoy while pursuing a great field but I also realize this will likely be my biggest test yet- mentally, emotionally, and physically. I hope to capture some of my thoughts either here or on my personal blog, but no guarantees, there are only 24 hours in a day.



BTR / Maple Hills Race Weekend Highlights

July 13th, 2016 by Kaitlyn Patterson

It was a busy weekend of racing, coaching, cheering, and volunteering this weekend for Team OAM NOW who came out in force for the BTR Crit and Maple Hills Race for Wishes.  It was a big weekend as Maple Hills was the 2016  state championship road race and  BTR was the state championship criterium for women, masters and juniors.   It was a great showing for the team with a successful Friday night skills clinic to kick off the weekend and nearly every race sporting some OAM NOW blue and orange kits. The racing was highlighted by two overall state champions as well as success stories in nearly every race.

Elite Men

Guelzo podiumIn the 87 mile men’s Cat 1/2/3/ road race on Sunday, Andy Guelzo stole the show taking the win in a sprint finish from a six man breakaway.  Andy was in strong company with Tom Burke and two Bissell ABG riders Aaron Beebe and John Leach.  But Andy was patient and delivered a brilliant sprint at the line to take the win.

Dan Yankus followed closely  in a chase group taking seventh.  With teammates up the road in breaks, the rest of the mens team finished in the main field.

Sunday’s win was a big relief to the team after a disappointing showing in the crit on Saturday.  Although  OAM NOW riders were part of every breakaway throughout the race, the field came back together in the final laps.  With a large Cat 1/2/3 field and a strong wind on the backstretch of the course, positioning was everything and the team ran out of real estate on the final lap. Andy  led the team in 14th place, followed by Dan in 19th.



It was a great weekend for women’s racing with strong and deep fields lining up both days.  Road captain Marie Dershem was joined by Kaitlyn Patterson, JoAnn Cranson, Danielle Nye, Laura Melendez, and Elaine Sheikh, the biggest showing for a women’t cycling event this season.

In the 60 minute crit, Kaitlyn Patterson broke away from the field alone 15 minutes in, enduring the windy backstretch and  eventually lapping the field to take the win.  After Kaitlyn was clear from the field, Marie began attacking and also broke away to take second and first in the Cat 1 / 2 race.

In the road race, the OAM NOW women  faced a challenge with City Hub Cyclery and Hagerty fielding strong teams.  The first half of the race rolled at a pedestrian pace, with an unfortunate crash taking down Danielle Nye and several other riders.  The attacks began on the biggest climb on the second of three laps as Kaitlyn got a gap but was pulled back and the field came back together.  On the final lap, the race was neutralized during the deciding climb as the field was passed by the Masters 35+ men.  With most of the riders still together, the nuetralization drastically changed the race dynamics.  With a deciding climb rendered irrelevant and nobody willing to pull or attack, Kaitlyn drilled the last 12 miles in the attempt to thin down the field and give Marie the best chance at the win. Despite the effort, 15 women stayed intact and the title was determined in a field sprint. Marie claimed fourth and second in Cat 1 /2 with Elaine and JoAnn finishing in the top 13.

TeamOAM Women's triathletes in Michigan, managed by Athletic Mentors, elite endurance sport coaches


Maple Hills debuted a Masters 40+ womens race this year with several riders taking on the challenge after racing the morning Cat 1/2/3/4 race as well. In an impressive double, JoAnn  took the top step of the Masters race in a sprint finish after 90 miles of total racing.

Elaine was one of the only Cat 4 riders to finish with the main field in the morning and she recovered quickly to also race in the Cat 4 race in the afternoon, taking sixth. This capped off a strong weekend for Elaine, after taking third in a sprint finish in the Cat 4 race at BTR.


Masters Menstate championship

The Masters Men had strong showings all weekend.  On Saturday, Richard Landgraff rode to a 2nd place finish in in the BTR crit for the 50-54 State Championship. Leonard Van Drunen just missed the podium, taking fourth in a four man break  in the 55+ race.

 On Sunday, the 7 masters riders monitored all the moves throughout the day and the race came down to a field sprint with Jon Morgan taking second and Rich in third  place in the state championship 50+.  The team was joined by new rider John Meyers who was instrumental in countering breaks with Terry Ritter, Mark Olson and Mike Wyzalek, and perennial strongman Chris Abston.


Three OAM NOW juniors took on the tough double race weekend including new team member Joe Meyers as well as Christian Dershem and Hunter Maschke.  Joe took third at BTR and took the top step in the 15-16 age category in Sunday’s road race, Hunter joined Joe on the podium taking third.

joe meyers RR

Full BTR Criterium Results can be found here.

Full Maple Hills results can be found here. 






A Course of Action

June 10th, 2016 by Marie Dershem

Tragedy. Senseless. Horrific. Heartbreaking… there are so many words that help us describe what happened in Kalamazoo a few short days ago. Five cyclists lost their lives and four were severely injured because of one person’s decision to drive recklessly. And we feel devastated, angry, distressed, anxious, deeply saddened, vulnerable and helpless.

So many words… but words can only take us so far. We want a course of action. We need to have something to do. We want to support those who have lost loved ones, demand justice for the actions of the man who caused this tragedy, and remember all who have been hit and injured or killed while cycling.

The ride of silence just 24 hours after this tragic event was a moving display of care, support, love and remembrance. The fund for the victims’ families has been established and is growing. These are immediate opportunities to give and support and raise awareness. We must grieve the loss, feel the feelings of anger and sadness.

But, what about a month from now? A year from now? How does this impact us? What course of action, long term, can we take in response to such tragedy? I believe we can allow this to change us for the better. We can be bitter, or we can make things better. As I ofen tell my children, we can’t prevent bad things from happening to us or those we love. The only thing we can control is our response to it. We can grow bitter hearts and resentment, or we can grow character and resilience

So, as we move from our deep sense of grief into a time of response, let’s consider how this can better us and better our community.

On the practical side:

bike safety picWhen you drive, show patience to cyclists. Give cyclist ample room (5’) when you pass them. Remember that they are more than just cyclists. They are someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s father or mother. However rushed you feel, remember that carelessness is not worth the risk or the 5 seconds you might save.

When you drive, vow to never, ever receive or send a text or email while driving. Ever. I hope it goes without saying that it is never acceptable in any way, shape or form to drive under the influence.

If you are a cyclist, follow the rules of the road, always.

Help to educate your community about cyclist’s right to be on the road and how to keep cyclists safe.

Volunteer at a cycling event to help keep participants safe.

Be as visible as you can when you ride.

Follow that instinct to do something – you’ll find what that thing is for you.

On the emotional side:

cycle with friendsEvents like this remind us how fragile life is. I know it is cliché, but speak your love to your loved ones. Hold close those friends who make your world a better place.

Remember that life, good health, and physical activity is a gift. We are blessed to be able to ride. Ride with joy. Ride as a celebration of life and health. Ride with friends and embrace the community cycling has given to us.

Let’s vow to keep our priorities straight . . . Live with joy. Ride with gratitude. Love with your whole heart.

ride for life

Killer, Thriller, Chiller… Barry-Roubaix at it’s finest

April 19th, 2016 by Marie Dershem

Early on a beautiful Saturday morning, April 16, 2016, cars and bikes started rolling into the small but incredibly welcoming town of Hasting, Michigan. Before long, the streets were packed with bike-rack filled cars and cyclists riding around the town. It was race day… the now infamous Barry-Roubaix was about to start. At last year’s race, people were huddled together trying to keep warm in sub-freezing temps. This year, it was short sleeves, big smiles and bright blue skies that opened up to the beautiful gravel roads in what was, for many, the first race of the season. With three distances to choose from, Barry-Roubaix has something for everyone.

While riders basked in the warmth and sunshine, the roads had also been basking in the sun, leaving them incredibly rocky and dusty for this year’s Barry-Roubaix. With over 3000 riders on the roads, the clouds of dust, areas of deep dirt and sand, and huge potholes made this always challenging race even more challenging than many expected.

Team OAM NOW/Athletic mentors had a great showing with team members scattered among the many categories of riders. Here is a quick peak into the races of TEAM OAM NOW/Athletic Mentor’s top finishers.

The first race to roll out of town was the “Killer” 62 mile race. Men’s Elite team captain, Daniel Yankus, reported, “Gravel road races take a great deal of focus as drifting back or following the wrong wheel can make or break the day. In the first couple of miles, there were shoulders and tires rubbing more than usual.” Up until Sager road, the lead group, with both Daniel and Cory, stayed together with a few attacks here and there to see if the group would lose some focus. About 18 miles in, with Sager road in sight, the field sprinted for the left hand corner. On Sager road, as always, bike handling skills and positioning weeded out theDan podium lead group and Daniel Yankus found himself in a small group of leaders. But, with so far to the finish, the group wasn’t able to unite in purpose, allowing the group swell once again to more than 20.When the course headed south for the final time, the attacks came quickly, and Daniel engaged a counter attack, putting himself into a small lead group. This lead group of about 12 rolled into town. But, Dan, with tired and cramping legs, found the chaotic scramble through the 22 miles finishers too much to mount a sprint for victory. Even without a sprint, though, Daniel earned a podium 7th with Cory narrowly missing top 20, rolling in 21st.

The Men’s “Thriller” 36 mile race is divided into many age categories due to the incredible number of riders. Rich L BRThis race is the second to go off with the younger men rolling out first and each age group rolling out in 2 minute increments until the last group of men, the oldest riders, and the fat bike division start their race. We had several Team OAM NOW/Athletic Mentors Masters Men racing the 36 mile race. One team member landed on the podium, taking his place among the fastest Masters men of the day. Rich Landgraff placed 2nd in his age group, earning a coveted podium spot.

The Women’s “Thriller” 36 mile race started after all of the men, which created quite a different race for the fastest of the women. The entire race was spent using bike handling skills to weave through thousands of men, while also managing the dirt, gravel, sand, mud, and potholes. The women started fast and kept on the gas from the start to the end. By 10 miles in, the lead group of women was down to about five riders. After navigating Sager road, there were three. marie brTeam OAM NOW/Athletic Mentors, Marie Dershem, was one of the three. To maintain the lead, these three women worked incredibly well together, continuing to build their lead and securing the top three spots on the podium. However, once they turned toward town, cooperation quickly came to an end and they became competitors once again. Pushing toward town, Marie heard echoes of advice given by well-seasoned and highly successful teammate, Amy Kimber. “Act. Don’t react.” Podium MarieWith this mantra running through her head, Marie found her opening as she rounded the second to last corner and made her move. She created a gap, hammered the sprint, and won the women’s 36 mile race.

With many other fine finishes among TEAM OAM/Athletic Mentors, it was a fantastic day with great representation in this epic race. To view more pictures, please visit our facebook page:

Stretching… A Non-Conformist Guide

March 9th, 2016 by Marie Dershem

My Athletic Mentors coach extraordinaire, Terry Ritter, will laugh when he sees that I am writing a post about stretching. When he first started coaching me, he asked me about my stretching routine. I informed him that – not only do I not have a stretching routine… I am the world’s worst stretcher.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not telling others not to stretch… I am injury prone and likely not as good an athlete as I could be because of my stubborn neglect of my tight muscles. It is one of my goals to develop a routine of stretching. But, this post isn’t actually about that kind of stretching.

This post is about stretching yourself out of your comfort zone. It is about doing what you haven’t done before… or what you think you can’t do (or can’t do well)… it is about taking chances and learning and growing and becoming not only a better athlete, but also a stronger person.

The first weekend in June last season, on a bit of a whim and with some encouragement from a friend and fellow cyclist, I decided to race the Tour of Galena in Galena, Illinois. This race involved 4 stages…. Friday night circuit race of 30 miles and about 3600 feet of climbing, Saturday morning time trial with several hundred feet of climbing in just 6 miles, a Saturday evening road race of 67 miles and about 4800 feet of climbing, and a Sunday Criterium, 60 minutes long.ugh hill climb (2)

I have never raced four races in three days.

I have never climbed that much in back-to-back races… actually in ANY races.

I didn’t know any riders except the one who encouraged me to go.

I had no idea how steep/long the climbs would be.

This set of races was well outside of my comfort zone. It was time to stretch.

Why? Because I want to be better. I want to experience more. I want to race strong women. I want to push myself. I want to grow as a cyclist. I want to be a part of growing women’s cycling in the Midwest.

I decided to go and race the first three races and come home before the Criterium on Sunday. Why? Well, my two sons had soccer games I didn’t want to miss. And, I had been gone for a few days earlier in the week, so I really should be home. And, (the truth behind the other truths) I DON”T LIKE CRITS. There. I said it. OKAY? I DON’T LIKE CRITS. They are fast and cornery and strategic and unpredictable and… and… and…

When I signed up for the races, though, I decided to enter the Omnium (for which all 4 races must be completed). I told my husband I was signing up for it because I was 99% sure that by the time the Crit rolled around, I would be out of the running for prize money and wouldn’t have to worry about it… but having the option is never a bad thing. It was $15 more than just doing the three races.

So, believing with every bone in my body that I would be skipping the criterium, I signed up for the Omnium… and I felt the stretch.

So, I packed up the car early Friday morning to drive to Galena and race that evening. Racing Friday late-afternoon, Saturday morning, and Saturday late-afternoon left me dehydrated, exhausted, and ready to go home. But, when I looked at the Omnium standings at 9pm Saturday night, I found myself in fifth place (out of almost 20 strong women).
I had raced as hard as I could, climbed to the best of my ability, and pushed through the toughest races I’ve ever done. I was definitely happy to be top 5 among a strong field of racers who I had come to respect greatly through racing with them. criterium-map (1)But, the crit. NO. NOT THE CRIT. My friend, who had encouraged me to come in the first place, took a great stance. She said, “You know, it is going to be a great learning experience.”
The course was very tough (as my coach said, it was the shape of a banana), the racers even tougher. The only thing I had to lose was… was… um… nothing.

But, what I had to gain? Practice cornering in the hardest corners, holding really fast wheels (especially through corners), multiple opportunities to practice lining up for sprints due to mid-race sprints and primes, positioning throughout, reading the field, picking a good wheel to follow (and ones not to follow). My friend never said, “You should stay.” Instead, she reminded me of all I have to gain by staying (stretch). My coach, Terry, with utmost respect for my family life and other priorities also encouraged me to stay. My husband… “If you want to stay, I’ve got the home front.” Do you see how no one said I should? No one said I was crazy if I didn’t? No one said I need the practice (which is obvious). Rather, they all allowed me to stretch… to come to my own decision that I would be a better rider and racer if I stay.

So, I stayed. And, everything that they said came true. I practiced hard corners, followed good lines, hopped on experienced wheels, and practiced positioning. It was the fasted criterium I have ever raced with the largest field I have ever raced with. It was a huge stretch. And, it was good.

I ended up sixth in the Omnium, which felt great. But, more importantly, I stretched myself far outside of my comfort zone… with crazy climbing, 4 races in less than72 hours, and the much dreaded criterium. I now will enter races with better awareness of my own capacity, with better ability to push myself, with more confidence in reading the field, with better cornering ability, with better understanding of positioning, and stronger all around because I stretched. I stretched hard. I stretched well.

Now, I need to work on my flexibility, right Terry?

Birkie 2016- A Physical, Technical Test

February 22nd, 2016 by Kaitlyn Patterson

–By Kaitlyn Patterson and Alex Vanias, OAM NOW Nordic skiers and cyclists

birkie bibs

Each American Birkebeiner has its own personality and this year’s race definitely had a volatile and unpredictable flair. Taking place every February in northern Wisconsin, the race usually occurs under ideal ski conditions- plenty of snow and temperatures in the 20s. However, this El Nino year was going to throw some curveballs.

The Birkie is the biggest cross country ski event in North America, drawing 10,000 skiers from around the country and the world. It is a bizarre and awesome phenomenon that this quirky population gathers en masse every year to race 50 kilometers between the tiny towns of Cable and Hayward. Birkie is a date circled in red on countless cross country skiers’ calendars whether they are shooting for the win and huge prize purse, an age group award, a better wave placement, or surviving  the endless hills of the Birkie trail. Everyone wants fast skis for this iconic event and when the weather creates tricky waxing conditions, it causes something close to mass hysteria. Which is exactly what happened this year.

This is not what skiers want to see 36 hours before race time!

This is not what skiers want to see 36 hours before race time!

Early in the week leading to the race, the temperatures were very cold in Hayward- down to -15 F with 2-5 inches of fresh snow. However, the weather was predicted to warm up to the upper 30s and low 40s starting on Thursday, rain on Thursday evening and Friday, and remaining above freezing for race time on Saturday. In order to protect the snow base, the fresh snow on the course was not groomed and  was closed to all skiers on Thursday and Friday. The course was not groomed until overnight on Friday before the race.

Usually at Birkie, several ski shops and wax services perform wax and ski tests all week and have a very good idea as to what is going to be fastest on race day. However, with the rapidly changing conditions and closed course, testing was of relative little value in the days before the race.  Because of the wide range of possible snow temperature and structure, the professional skiers with wax service teams prepared many possible race skis in the days leading up to the race. Eventual women’s race winner Caitlin Gregg “narrowed” her ski choices down to 13 pairs the day before the race!


Since Alex and I don’t have a service team and have six skis between us (only one pair is mine but the varying flexes means I can often benefit from his fleet) meant that we had quite the task of preparing skis that could put us in the mix of the fastest skiers in the race. In addition, we have very little experience preparing skis for warm, wet conditions as it is quite uncommon during ski season in the Midwest.

We arrived in Cable on Wednesday night and went on a quick ski to check out the snow. We were met with fast, ideal conditions and a beautiful moon. Although we were wishing the race could be held before the weather became temperamental, we had no choice but to try to make the best of what we had. On Thursday, the research began in earnest and we headed to the expo in pursuit of bibs and a couple more tricks for optimal ski prep. We did not have any liquid fluoros and determined that it would be especially beneficial to add speed early in the race and help us make the initial separations. It also could be applied immediately before the start after our warm-up was completed (“fluoro” refers to fluorine which is a negatively charged atom that repels both water and dirt which are generally negatively charged. Fluro content is especially important in wet and dirty snow- which this year’s Birkie was both. For anyone interested in the physics, check out this article). After visiting the Swix tent at the expo and several ski shops, we finally found the swix HVC liquid flouro we were looking for. It was the last in stock at our last stop and likely the only one left within a several hundred mile radius.

Anxiety levels became much lower once Alex was confident we had enough tools to prepare competitive skis. Since we arrived in Cable early, we had all day on Friday to test and prepare skis. Friday morning offered comparable temperatures to race morning and although we didn’t have access to the course, we tested on a groomed section of trail that we hoped was similar to the race course.

Where the magic happens!

Where the magic happens!

We prepared all our skis with the same molybdenum high flouro baselayer to get an idea of which skis were running best. Despite the rain on Thursday and temperatures above freezing for a full 24 hours, the trail remained firm and surprisingly fast. It was pretty clear for both of us which skis were running best- my universal flex ski with a warm grind and Alex’s universal flex with an LS1 cold grind. Although Alex has invested in his ski fleet this year including a pair of Speedmax skis meant to be optimal for Birkie, the unusual conditions unfortunately made them irrelevant.

After setting our race skis aside, we then tested waxes and topcoats on the slower skis. Alex prepared one pair with Toko high-fluoro yellow paraffin and FC10 topcoat and the other Swix HF 8 with FC8X (red) topcoat. The yellow wax is meant for wetter and warmer conditions and was running a bit faster than the red which is a bit harder wax meant for slightly cooler conditions.  However, a complicating factor was the course would be tilled before the race- possibly bringing up colder snow that was insulated underneath. But we had no idea the snow temperature or how transformed the snow would be. Despite the warm and wet conditions, we decided the added durability and potential of colder snow made the slightly harder red waxes our choice for paraffin (Swix HF8) and topcoat (FC8X). This thinking was backed up by testing and wax recommendations from other teams.

The HVC liquid flouro was the final layer and we tested it on our pre-race workout- each of us applying it to just one ski. It was noticeably faster and we were happy to see it lasted over 10-k as one drawback of many liquid fluoros is the limited durability.

However, after the testing and decision had been made, the rain began in earnest. A combination of rain and wintery mix fell much of the evening, creating a sheet of ice by the time we went to bed. With all the factors in play, Alex and I got up at 4am to check out the snow in case we had to make some last minute changes.

The course begins in a wide open field and we arrived in the pre-dawn darkness to find wet and soft conditions as the temperature remained about 38 degrees overnight. Although it was in contrast to the firm trail we had been testing on, our skis were moving well and hoped it would be enough.

The Birkie starts in waves with the elite women’s wave going off first and followed 20 minutes later by the elite men. Some years the leaders of the men’s race catch the female leaders and some years they don’t so that is almost a race in itself. The women’s elite field is very small- only about 60 racers and I was able to start on the front row of the huge start line with some of the best skiers in the world. This was probably one of the cooler moments of my ski career.

Start of the elite women's field  (Photo credit- American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation©2016)

Start of the elite women’s field
(Photo credit- American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation©2016)

Despite a front row start, I fell back in the field a bit because the opening section was quite variable with sections of soft powder and icy patches. It took me a while to find a rhythm and by that time, the lead group was off the front. However, I was able to find a good group of five women to ski with and we took turns pulling. After the starting field, the course changed to be hard packed and fast- much different than anything we had tested on but my skis were great. Because of the high speeds, drafting was crucial and it felt very much like a bike race.

Meanwhile, Alex was fighting to stay with the lead pack- dangling off the back and having to make up the gaps once guys were dropped. Since the conditions were fast, drafting became so important to the race dynamics that many guys were skipping feeds instead of risking losing the draft. Although Alex’s skis were among the fastest in the soft snow, they were too soft to be optimal for the unexpected hard-packed trail. Eventually, Alex lost the pack and joined a chase group that had formed just behind. Although the pace was comfortable in the group, a fall at about 24k caused him to lose the group. Despite chasing hard to reestablish contact, the group acted like a peloton that is essentially impossible to catch. This left Alex to race the second half alone, stuck in no-man’s land and missing the benefit of any draft.

birkie hr

TrainingPeaks tells the story better than anything else


With about 18k to go I heard the sound of the lead snowmobile and I moved over as the lead pack of about 15 guys sped by followed several minutes later by a chase pack of 10. I was bummed to not see Alex but soon after he caught me solo. I was able to match him just for a few strides but is helped me to get enough of a gap on my group that they lost my draft and I took advantage of the next several steep climbs to shake them for good.

In the final 3 kilometers racers cross Lake Hayward before finishing on Main Street in Hayward. The recent rain made for a slushy crossing with some ankle deep standing water which made for an especially challenging final push to the finish.

The American Birkebeiner finishes in downtown Hayward to a extremely supportive crowd

The American Birkebeiner finishes in downtown Hayward to a extremely supportive crowd

Alex stopped the clock at 2:14:09 averaging over 14 mph for 31 miles, claiming 25th place and 13th American in a very competitive international field. I finished in 2:40:24, taking 18th in the women’s race as the 12th American. We were the first male and female finishers from Michigan including both upper and lower peninsulas. It was also an improvement over last year’s Birkie finish for both of us.

Both men’s and women’s overall titles were won by Americans as Caitlin Gregg won her fourth Birkie title and David Norris overtook six Europeans in the final kilometer for an upset win.

Although we had both been hoping to crack the top ten, the course conditions did not play to our strengths and we were somewhat limited by a small fleet of skis. Considering the challenges of the weekend, it was a very solid showing from both of us.

Jon Morgan also represented Team OAM Now, skiing out of wave 1 and finished his 24th! Birkie in 2:53:26. Jon was content with his race considering the unrelenting hills of the course and the rebuilding he has had to do this year after his hamstring injury last year at Noque.

Team OAM Now taking advantage of the trails to ski and test before the race!

Team OAM Now taking advantage of the trails to ski and test before the race!


The ski season is almost done for the nordic team with only two more race weekends. This weekend is Black Mountain in Cheboygan followed by Great Bear Chase in Calumet the first weekend in March.


The complete searchable Birkie results can be found here and an article about the winners by FasterSkier.

Nordic Immersion- Watching, Writing, and Racing

January 13th, 2016 by Kaitlyn Patterson

-By Kaitlyn Patterson, OAM NOW Nordic Skier and Cyclist

To kick off 2016 I made the trek to Houghton, Michigan to attend U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships (also known as U.S. Nationals) held the first week in January. But instead of lining up as a competitor, my job was to be a professional observer for the week.  Since November I have been writing for FasterSkier, one of the primary sources of North American cross country ski news. I mostly cover World Cup events remotely but since U.S. Nationals were held in the Midwest, I got my first shot at on-site reporting.

Nationals consists of four days of racing including an interval start race (racers go off one by one and race the clock, just like a time trial), two days of head to head sprint racing, and a mass start distance race. The event is held early in the season because it allows athletes a chance to qualify to represent the U.S. in international competition the remainder of the season. Since it is held so early, I didn’t plan on racing to give me more time to transition to ski season after an intense fall of cycling. However, teammate Alex Vanias prioritized roller skiing all summer and fall and would compete in the 30-kilometer mass start freestyle event despite having only one week of on-snow training prior to the race.

Michigan Tech did an amazing job hosting the event with limited snow and skiers from all over the U.S. and Canada converged in Houghton. I enjoy watching races almost as much as I enjoy competing and I got to see some great battles. I also had a chance to meet some really impressive, down to earth athletes and coaches including another Caitlin Patterson of the nordic ski world who had a great weekend and won both distance races (together we confuse a lot of people).  Our hotel was filled with skiers making for a fun and quirky place to hang out. Basically the week could be best described as doing quirky things in a quirky place with quirky people.  And it was great.

My FasterSkier partner Gabby and I even had official "media" bibs allowing us access to any part of the course.

My FasterSkier partner Gabby and I even had official “media” bibs allowing us on any part of the course

On my “days off” from race reporting I got to enjoy some of the best skiing in the Midwest at the Michigan Tech trails. We also had amazing weather with temps between 15 and 30 degrees and a couple days of sunshine!


Ski trails the width of a highway!

Ski trails the width of a highway!

Enjoying the Houghton sunshine!

Enjoying the Houghton sunshine!


Finally the day of the mass start freestyle event arrived.  It was a great field and I was excited to watch the race up front and see what Alex could do. The day didn’t disappoint with an impressive win by Tad Elliott who came back from a rough couple years battling mono and Epstein-Barr virus.  Alex moved up from starting position 76 to finish 43rd against a talented field of collegiate and professional athletes.

Alex competing in the 30k freestyle at U.S. Nationals

Alex competing in the 30k freestyle at U.S. Nationals

After watching races all week and feeling great skiing, I was itching to race. Alex planned on racing the 42k event at the SISU Ski Fest in Ironwood two days after his 30k. After working out some logistics, I decided I could join him and return to Houghton to wrap up U.S. Nats reporting.

Ironwood is a small, old mining town on the border of Wisconsin with strong Finnish history. Everyone is incredibly friendly and the town rolls out the red carpet for racers including traditional stew and pasties at the “Finnish” line. Hundreds of snow-deprived skiers from across the Midwest arrived excited for the new snow and great racing conditions.

Sisu is a Finnish word meaning determination, bravery, and resilience. 

Sisu is a Finnish word meaning determination, bravery, and resilience.

The course wound through the ABR trail system before heading north to finish in downtown Ironwood.  Both Alex and I started in the elite wave and after narrowly avoiding a pileup in the first 100 meters, we were off!

I settled in a train of guys along with the one other female. It was great to be racing again but I noticed pretty early in the race that I had underestimated the stress of skiing and working all week. I attempted to ski relaxed but the spent too much time accelerating and trying to pass other racers on the narrow trail. At about 30k, the first female took off and by the time I passed the racer in between us and began chasing, she was out of sight. I had also fallen behind in my fuel intake and sat in the back of the train to regroup.  I was able to rally but it was a bit too little, too late and I finished second- just over a minute off the lead.  The winner was Jan Guenther, an accomplished skier and triathlete who also owns Gear West- the biggest nordic ski shop in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Alex was fighting a much tighter battle for the win against Matt Leibsch. Matt is one of the top cross country racers in the country with a previous Birkie win and a two top-10 results at U.S. Nationals this week.  Alex and Matt dropped the field early and despite Matt’s efforts to drop him, Alex was skiing strong and it became apparent it would come down to the finishing kick.  Matt overtook Alex the last kilometer to win by just 18 seconds.

SISU 42k freestyle men's podium. The quick lumberjack is Matt Liebsch, followed by Alex Vanias, and Nicholas Power. (Photo: Vic Calore)

SISU 42k freestyle men’s podium. The quick lumberjack is Matt Liebsch, followed by Alex Vanias, and Nicholas Power. (Photo: Vic Calore)

It was a great two races for Alex and a testament to his off-season training and potential for the season. It was an epic week for both of us and I’m excited that winter has finally arrived in Traverse City so we can train and race!

The OAM Nordic Team will be back in action this Saturday, January 16 for the Cote Dame Marie in Grayling, right in the backyard of our ski shop sponsor- Cross Country Ski Shop!

Results for U.S. Nationals 30k freestyle

Results for SISU Ski Fest


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