TRAVERSE CITY — Almost all of the Vasa ski races Saturday were based on the same principle — outpace the competition as quickly as possible.
One race was entirely different, though.
The 12K Tour was a non-competitive event, run solely for the purpose of getting skiers of all ages and abilities to be active and out on the trail.
This year’s 12K was run to honor George Lombard and George Kuhn, two men who have been at the heart of the region’s nordic ski community for many years. Lombard led the tour this year, called the Human Inspiration 12K, for an event that was intended to be light and fun.
“It’s a great idea,” said Kuhn. “They started it last year and they decided to carry it on, giving a model to other people to ski — to get out when they have less than 100 percent physical capabilities.”
Kuhn and Lombard should know.
They’ve remained active skiers — as well as bikers — into their 80s, even though Kuhn has an artificial hip and a pacemaker and Lombard lost a leg as a teenager in a farm accident that forced him to use a full prosthetic leg in competitions.
Last year’s non-competitive 12K event at the Vasa was in honor of Dr. John Bruder, a Traverse City surgeon and avid skier who regularly participated in the Vasa 27K and 50K races.
In 2010, Bruder was diagnosed with lung cancer and could no longer compete.
However, with the aid of portable oxygen tanks he took part in his 28th Vasa race in 2013. The “Ski with John” wave of the Vasa’s 12K race brought together Bruder’s friends — as well as strangers — to ski with him.
In a validation of Bruder’s determination to compete again, and the powerful effect it had, Bruder talked about a conversation he had following last year’s race that ultimately struck a chord.
“I had a guy come up to me at the end,” Bruder said after the 2013 event. “He was probably 40, a little overweight. He said, ‘Thank you. I’ve never done a ski race before, but I read your story and I figured if you could do it I could do it. Now I’m going to start getting in shape.’ That made my day.”
Bruder asked Vasa organizers to continue the special 12K event to recognize all skiers who continue to ski despite health setbacks.
“It’s in hopes of encouraging other people who are not as physically active as we are or have been,” said Kuhn. “It’s something they can do and continue it and build on it so their life will be more enjoyable. It’s nice to see (people out there). It’s a non-timed event. It lets people just go out and ski the trail and ski with a lot of other comparable people.”
Between them Kuhn and Lombard have completed 51 Vasa races. Lombard was the chief architect who designed and helped build the Vasa ski trail system.
“I feel great that I’ve inspired other people,” said Lombard. “The fact that I’m an amputee and 83 years old and still out there skiing every day. I know people have come up to me and told me I have been an inspiration for them when they’ve had some minor problems.”