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Olympic storyteller to focus on legendary 'Birkie' for 'Thursdays at the U'

| Linda Tollefsrud and Diane Walkoff

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is one of America's noted Olympic storytellers whose “Behind the Gold” speaking series has brought stories to audiences around the world.

On Thursday, April 25, Kelly will present “The Legend of the Birkie” for UW-Eau Claire – Barron County's "Thursdays at the U" lecture and performance series. The presentation will be from noon-1 p.m. in the Blue Hills Lecture Hall (Room 234, Ritzinger Hall) on the Rice Lake campus, 1800 College Drive.

A Madison native, Kelly was an award-winning news photographer before moving to northwestern Wisconsin in the mid-1970s to work in public relations for the then-fledgling American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race and the prosperous Telemark Lodge. He left Telemark in 1984 and began a career with the U.S. Ski Association in 1988, forging a 32-year career as spokesperson for America's Olympic skiers and snowboarders.

The American Birkebeiner had its origins in the vision of a local entrepreneur in Hayward, Tony Wise, who wanted to bring the legend of a similar race in his ancestral Norway to the northwoods of Wisconsin. Kelly, who wrote the book “Birkie Fever” to document the early years of the race, will give insights into Wise's entrepreneurial spirit and piece together the puzzle of the magic that has kept the Birkie in the forefront of America's participant sport culture for nearly a half-century.

For more information about "Thursdays at the U," contact Dr. Linda Tollefsrud, professor emeritus of psychology, UW Colleges, at or 715-788-6216.

Top photo caption: The American Birkebeiner ski race. (Photo by Bob Pearl)