BY DENNIS CHASE
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."
Northville's Amy Kostrzewa, a veteran Vasa skier, suffered a recent injury, too. She was hit by a cab driver and suffered a couple broken ribs before Christmas.
That didn't stop her Saturday. Kostrzewa won the women's 27K classic in 2:17:32.
"Beautiful conditions," she said. "The tracks were excellent, start to finish. Mother Nature really cooperated. And the wax was just right on my skis. I have to thank my husband for making those fast."
It was Kostrzewa's 16th Vasa.
"There were several times today when I was thinking this is the nicest Vasa ever," she said.
Ontario's Allan Magi made it look effortless in winning the men's 50K classic in 3:09:06. It was his first Vasa.
"Beautiful course," he said. "It was a little cold the first 10K, especially on the downhills, but after that it was nice, probably the nicest ski day of the year. Thanks to all the volunteers, it was great."
The 50K classic started at 8 a.m. with the temperature hovering near the zero mark.
"It was frosty," Magi said.
Magi skied with Williamsburg's Randy Smith for about 25K of the race.
"He got tired of waiting for me," the 51-year-old Smith said. "It was fun skiing with him as long as I could."
Smith came in at 3:19:59.
Smith echoed Magi's comments about the conditions.
"Best conditions we've ever had," he said. "Mother Nature came through. The groomers did a great job. It's the best the trail's been all year. Everything came together."
Minnesota's Kathy Sanville is packing a lot into the weekend. She's visiting her father, who lives here, and she's leaving a 50K classic champion.
Sanville won the women's race in 4:14:20.
"It was cold at the start," she said. "But we're used to it in Minnesota."
Sanville skied a race in the Czech Republic two weeks ago. She's tried skating, but prefers classic.
"My rule of thumb is I won't skate a race over 25K," she said. "It's too hard on the shoulders and the back. I just like classic."
Traverse City's Jo Pergrine won the women's 12K freestyle in 51:51 while Leland's Dave Butryn took the men's race in 41:35.
In the 12K classic, Oxford's Gwenn Stevenson and Traverse City's Barry O'Brien took top honors in 1:21:29 and 1:05:28, respectively.
In the 6K freestyle, Traverse City's Erin Lipp claimed the women's race in 22:23 and Interlochen's Ian Durand the men's race in 18:49.