HUSTLE AND THINK. Work hard, be prepared, and then be present. Pay attention and figure out what you need to be doing. Do it.
If you lined up alongside Jeff Cummisford ’73 on the football field for the Pioneers in the early ’70s, you’d likely recognize the approach, if not the exact words.
It’s a philosophy he learned from his father, and clearly it still serves him well. On Feb. 22, if all goes well and the snow sticks around, Cummisford will compete in the Slumberland American Birkebeiner for the 33rd time.
This will be the 46th running of the cross-country ski marathon, a 50 -or 55-kilometer race from Cable to Hayward in northwestern Wisconsin that draws upwards of 10,000 people to compete in several events over a long weekend. Since he first stepped up to the starting line, Cummisford has missed racing twice—once when he was recovering from a snowblower accident and once when the race itself was canceled due to lack of snow.
“It’s the Boston Marathon of cross-country skiing,” he said, “a world-class athletic event.”
Why keep at it? “Each year is different. The snow is different. The temperatures can be zero or 45 degrees,” he said. “Each year, you get a new story.”
Cummisford didn’t ski as a child. Football was his sport. Though just 5' 9" and 160 pounds, Cummisford excelled on the field. At Carroll, he recorded 18 career interceptions and was co-captain of the team in 1972. In 2002, he was elected to the Carroll Athletic Hall of Fame. “I’m not a big guy but I was a good player and I played with really good guys,” he said. “My dad had this philosophy: hustle and think. Following that has made me a better athlete and a better person throughout my life.”
In a roundabout way, Carroll had a role in his discovery of skiing. He met his wife, Lynn Tonjes ’73, at a square dance in the school’s ballroom in his freshman year. “My biggest accomplishment at Carroll was having Lynn select me,” he said.
In his sophomore year, she took him skiing. A few years later, his sister-in-law’s husband introduced him to cross-country. He was bitten by the bug. And then came the Birkie.
“It truly became Birkie fever for me,” he noted. His son, Kevin, competes as well, as do several Carroll alumni and classmates of Cummisford, including Don Becker ’73, Rick Wheeler ’73 and Jay Woodard ’72. “In fact, Jay and I finished within a minute of each other a good 10 times and never saw each other the whole race.”
It took Cummisford six hours and 32 minutes to finish his first race, using the traditional method in which skiers zoom along in parallel grooves in the snow. His fastest time came 12 years ago, when he completed the 50k skating course in two hours and 48 minutes.