Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ski for Light: The Sons of Norway Connection

They say you learn something new everyday. Whoever "they" may be, they're right.

I'll sheepishly admit that, until today, I never knew or understood the full extent of Sons of Norway's relationship with Ski for Light**. This morning I got schooled by our Foundation Director, Cindy Olson.

It turns out that SFL's modest beginning dates back to the decade pop culture will never forget: The 1970's! Back then, Sons of Norway's International President Bjarne Eikevik had learned about a sports-for-health program in Norway for visually impaired skiers, called Ridderrennet, from the man who would become one of the founder's of SFL, Olav Pederson. The Norwegian program paired a guide with visually impaired, or otherwise disabled skiers giving them the opportunity to take part in an active, yet safe pursuit. Eikevik thought this was a very good, very noble and very Norwegian idea that should be introduced to the United States. The Ski for Light was born...sort of.

In the beginning it was a very localized event in Minneapolis, MN, heavily supported by Sons of Norway volunteers. At first the event consisted of a delegation of Norwegian skiers coming to Minneapolis and homestaying with Sons of Norway members. While here, they would participate in the Winter Carnival events and help with a series of fund-raising ski-a-thons where Norwegian and American skiers would get pledges from friends and family.

Two of our then-board members, Roy Eide and Glen Ruona were instrumental in helping this fledgling event grow. Cindy Olson told me a story about the time Ruona and others brought in truckloads of snow to Nicollet Mall and demonstrated cross-country skiing to an audience that was, up to that point, very unfamiliar with the sport. From the sounds of it, you'd have thought Martians had landed from the looks on folks' faces!

From there the event spread to other regions in the late 70's, with events being held in Wisconsin, Michigan, New England and the Black Hills of South Dakota. From there it was a quick step into its current status as an umbrella event/organization with a number of complimentary regional events. To hear it told, the growth and expansion of the SFL is a very exciting story--from a local event held at golf courses in the winter to a national event that draws hundreds of participants.

However, throughout all these changes and growth, there has been one constant: Sons of Norway's continued commitment to the event. Since the beginning, Sons of Norway has helped support the event through volunteerism and philanthropic opportunities. Today, approximately 125 lodges have provided financial support to SFL and the Sons of Norway Foundation currently offers the Bjarne Eikevik Scholarship, a $1,000 award given to first-time participants to help support SFL and its mission (promoting the physical fitness of visually and mobility impaired adults through a week-long cross-country skiing event).

Later today there will be another SFL post, with some thoughts from our Fraternal Director, Eivind Heiberg, who is in Provo participating in the week-long event.

**If I have any of the facts wrong, please leave a comment and let me know what should be corrected.

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