TRAVERSE CITY — Dr. John Bruder figures he's spent "thousands of hours" skiing and enjoying the natural beauty of the Vasa trail over the years.
Saturday's experience surpassed it all.
"This was the most satisfying day of cross-country skiing of my life," he said.
Bruder took part in his 28th Vasa. It was his first in three years after being diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in 2010. He now skis with a portable oxygen tank.
A special "Ski With John" wave was incorporated into this year's 12K and some of Bruder's closest friends were there to share the moment with him.
"It was such a wonderful event — to be out with some of my closest ski friends and some new people who have just started to ski," he said. "It was well organized. The trail was in perfect shape. The weather was ideal. The whole experience combined made for the best cross country day I've ever had. I was really happy."
Bruder, an orthopedic surgeon, completed the 12K in 1:28:34, although the time seemed irrelevant on this day.
It was a ski that ended on a real positive note.
"I had a guy come up to me at the end," Bruder said. "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."
Williamsburg's Milan Baic and Lake Ann's Amy Powell will have company at the masters world championships in Italy this week.
Indiana's Randy Bladel.
He won the Vasa 27K classic race Saturday in a time of 1:44:00. It could have been a few seconds faster, but as Bladel approached the finish line, he stopped, turned around, and skied the final few yards backwards.
"I was just messing around, having a little fun," he said.
Bladel, who's won the 27K and 50K classic races here previously, opted out of the 50K Saturday to "rest" for Italy. He made it look easy, taking the lead early.
"I was surprised that a few people didn't go with me," he said. "I was just trying to see how many of the 50K people (who started earlier) I could catch.
"But what a beautiful day to ski. It was awesome. The track was firmer than I thought it would be. My skis worked well. It was a good day to ski."
Michigamme's Chris Steele placed second in 1:48:46.
"I've never been here before so I didn't know what to expect," he said. "It was a great course. Some of the best conditions I've seen this year. It was fast. It was fun."
As for Bladel?
"I didn't even see him the whole time," Steele said. "I had no idea where he was."
Bladel can now turn his attention to the world championships.
"Milan actually had a better reason to rest today than I did," he said. "He's a threat for a medal every year. I'm just one of the crowd over there."
Traverse City's Bill Brundage had a strong outing in his first race of the season.
"It couldn't be a better classic day," he said. "Outstanding."
Brundage posted a time of 1:51:28.
"I've had some injuries so I haven't been able to ski much lately," he said. "This feels good. I'm going to use this as a way to go for next year."