Jesse Cain grew up watching the northern Wisconsin town of Hayward put on an international event, the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race.
From Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 22-24, about 13,500 skiers and 20,000 to 30,000 spectators flooded the city, which only has about 2,000 residents.
“It’s pretty exciting to see how the town transforms every year to put on the Birkie,” Cain said.
The University of Wisconsin-Stout alumnus lives in Eau Claire, where he works as a project manager for Royal Construction. He supports the race as one of the skiers, but he also has begun giving back as a volunteer.
He knows that the race, which drew skiers from 49 states and 36 countries, doesn’t happen by magic.
Cain completed his fifth Birkie Saturday, but he also spent a good part of his day Friday volunteering at the start area of the Prince Haakon 15K, one of the Birkie’s shorter events for people who don’t want to ski a 50-kilometer marathon.
As one of 50 race chiefs, Cain led a group of about 15 volunteers helping Prince Haakon skiers before the race and cleaning up after the start. The Prince Haakon finished in downtown Hayward along with the 29K Kortelopet, which started farther up the trail.
Cain was one of about 2,100 Birkie volunteers over the three days of racing. They helped with everything from medical needs — 300 medical personnel and the Ski Patrol were on hand — to handing out food and water at aid stops to handing out medals at the finish line.
“I think the race is a wonderful thing for northern Wisconsin and Hayward in general,” Cain said. “It’s nice to be able to help.”
Cain had inquired about volunteering when his children began skiing in Thursday’s children’s race. He realized he had Friday open on his schedule. He attended several volunteer training meetings leading up to the race.
Cain has been around the race and the Birkie Trail all his life. He skied for the Hayward High School team, did the Kortelopet in high school and skied his first Birkie in 2011.
“There are more volunteers than there are people in Hayward,” Cain said. “It’s pretty amazing to see how a town of 2,000 can accommodate this many people.”
He graduated from UW-Stout in 2003 with a degree in construction. “I really like what I do, and Royal Construction is a great company,” he said.
He began his career as a project manager helping build stores for Menards.
Two of his co-workers at Royal Construction, Greg Adams and Nick Jackson, also were volunteering at the Birkie. They brought a Royal truck to the Kortelopet start, where skiers dropped off bags with personal belongings, then drove it to the finish line where the bags were organized for quick pick-up by the skiers.
Jackson, also of Eau Claire, interns at Royal and is a UW-Stout construction major.