Seventy-three Zipping by You!
BY BRUCE STEINBERG
If you skied the Wolf Tracks Rendezvous race, February 1, 2020, at Minocqua Winter Park (and why didn’t you?!) you would have seen Mike Cavanaugh of Wausau, Wisconsin, take gold in the 24K classic in 1:26. At 53 years of age, Mike turned in an impressive time. But the shadow loomed large because chasing him were two men—in their 70s: Greg Kresse, 70, also of Wausau, who took the bronze in 1:34. But, OMG, at 73 years young, Phil Mahoney, near Stevens Point, Wisconsin, took the silver in 1:31. That’s a speedy-at-any-age 3 minutes,49 seconds per kilometer, classic.
With the help of Christie Terkelson, Executive Director of Minocqua Winter Park, I tracked Phil Mahoney down. My first question? —Wait, HOW?!
“I grew up in New England,” Mahoney said, “but didn’t start Nordic skiing until after college in winter, 1969. My brother and I purchased massive Bonna 2400 wooden touring skis and did a race in Putney, Vermont. We were clueless regarding waxing and didn’t do too well, but were hooked. I’ve been racing ever since.
“As to my Wolf Tracks race, this is my 51st year doing this sort of thing. Although I didn’t start until after college, I had a background in track and cross-country running, and did very well. I followed Track and Field News in the 60’s for motivation, and understood hard work and having goals. I applied these concepts to ski racing. I never stopped running after college and had a chance to run and talk with the legendary New Zealand coach, Arthur Lydiard.” [b: 1917; d: 2004; still considered one of the greatest running coaches of all time.]
“In the early 80’s I added triathlon to my sports list as cross-training for Nordic skiing. I guess you could say I’ve been a lifetime competitive athlete. Early on I utilized both distance and speed training. You don’t get fast with just the slow stuff. These days I always get some extra speed work chasing the faster middle school kids I coach.”
Mahoney’s impressive results go beyond Wolf Tracks, and the United States.
“My first Birkie was in 1980,” he said, “when I took a job in Wisconsin. It was classic only then. but after watching two Swedes skate away from everyone in 1984, I made the transition as well. I’ve always had some foot and ankle issues and so mainly do classic races these days. I’ve done a few National Masters races over the years and a couple of World Masters events when they’re in the U.S. In 2018, when our National Masters was imbedded in the World Masters in Minneapolis, I won all three of my classic races for the U.S. and was the first pick for the relay where we took second to Finland. I was also third overall in the 10K classic behind a Finn and Norwegian. These results gave me a 9th seed (1st row start) for the Worlds in 2018 in Beitostolen, Norway, last March. Unfortunately, I got sick right after a great Korte Classic race [first out of 74 in classic age group; 3 min., 45 secs. per K pace] prior to Beitostolen, and had to settle for middle-of-the-pack results. Disappointing, but at least I was well enough to ski the beautiful, daily groomed trails surrounding this little town.”
As a self-professed “Nordicnut,” Mahoney moved near Stevens Point for obvious reasons.
“I got my masters in Zoology at the University of New Hampshire in 1970 and worked several years as a biologist before teaching high school biology in New Zealand for a year. I then switched to medicine, completing a physician assistant program at Western Michigan University in 1979. I took a job in Wisconsin because I wanted to ski the Birkie.”
And these days?
“I’m presently one of five volunteer coaches for the Iola Winter Sports Club and work primarily with Middle School kids. I started doing this in 2012 after retiring from 33 years as a physician assistant. I was partially involved with coaching Owen Williams who was the Wisconsin Middle School Champ two years in a row and is now a top high school skier and National Junior Qualifier. More importantly, I’ve helped several young skiers continue with the sport as avid citizen racers.”
Mahoney’s future cross-country skiing goals show no slowing down.
“My goals include staying in the sport for as long as I’m healthy and can tolerate winter. Because of an aortic valve condition (but no symptoms), I’ve decided to forgo marathon distance races and stick with half marathons. I even get to start in the Korte Elite Wave this year.”
Well, Mr. Mahoney, you inspire and give us hope. All I would add to the story is that the nearest 30-something to his Wolf Tracks finish was 16 minutes behind.
Pfft. Okay, Millennial . . .