Dave Landgraf was a friend, coach, and inspiration to many people. For some, it went even beyond that.
“I’ve been a friend of his forever and I would say he is my hero,” said Dr. Richard Gladitsch of Bloomer, hours after receiving news that Landgraf had died from injuries suffered in an accident in Sawyer County.
Landgraf, 62, was struck by a vehicle while riding a bicycle on Highway 27 in the Hayward area Friday evening.
Anna Amparo, 24, of Hayward, was driving a Mitsubishi Galant southbound on Highway 27 when she turned around in her seat to talk to her two children, according to a Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department report. When she turned back to the road, she saw Landgraf in her path, tried to swerve, but was unsuccessful.
Landgraf was thrown from the bike and landed in a ditch. Emergency personnel took Landgraf to Hayward Area Memorial Hospital by ambulance and called for a helicopter to fly him to a Duluth hospital.
Landgraf died at 3:12 p.m. Monday at the hospital, the report said.
Landgraf retired four years ago after a long career as a Bloomer Middle School physical education teacher. He has been Bloomer’s track and field coach since taking over for Wally Mohrman in 1981, and he started a cross country skiing program at the school.
But he was also known through his association with the world-famous American Birkebeiner cross country ski race, having skied in every race since its founding in 1973.
He was one of three to have skied in every one through last winter’s event. Another was his lifelong friend Ernie St. Germaine.
“There just aren’t enough words to do a story he deserves,” St. Germaine told the Duluth News-Tribune. “You’d have to talk to everyone he’s inspired in his life — it’s just so many people.”
Only about 50 people skied the first Birkie, and Landgraf and many others almost said one was enough.
“After that first time I swore I’d never do it again,” Landgraf recalled to the Herald’s Jeffrey Hage in 2001.
But he went on, skiing the torturous race again and again.
“The second one I was more miserable than the first one,” Landgraf told the Herald’s Fred Maki in 1997. “It was cold. It was 14 below with a 15-mile-an-hour wind. I had frostbite.
“It was a test of will,” he said of the early races. “There was no way to quit. You were out there and you had to keep following the trail. There was nowhere else to go, and nobody to follow.”
Landgraf was one of the race’s best, and best-known, skiers.
“He was 62 years old and he was still able to ski with the men 20 and 30,” Gladitsch said. “He was a world-elite skier. He trained every day.”
Gladitsch and Landgraf worked together to start the Gateway Triathlon in Bloomer in 1983.
“We had both done a couple of triathlons and we wanted to have a local one for people in our area,” Gladitsch said.
So they talked to Rick Mitchell, owner of the Gateway Restaurant, a landmark at the corner of Highways 64 and 40, and put together an event headquartered there. It started with a 2-mile canoe race, then a 14-mile bike ride, then a four-mile run.
“Dave was really interested in developing any kind of activity encouraging people to be active and fit,” Gladitsch said.
Landgraf was sometimes a difficult task master, setting high standards for the athletes he coached, but wouldn’t ask others to do what he would not do himself, Gladitsch continued.
Bloomer Principal Chad Steinmetz, who grew up in Bloomer, recalls being in first grade when Landgraf began his teaching career there, as a physical education teacher at the elementary and middle schools.
“He certainly had an immeasurable impact on many people. His persona brought him instant respect, from athletes he coached to those he taught with,” Steinmetz said. “And for a man of his age, I don’t know anyone who was in better physical condition.”
Gladitsch said Landgraf led by example, and was dedicated, principled and successful.
“I think the real legacy of Dave is he had a lot of integrity and encouraged hundreds of people to live a life of integrity and do things to improve their mind, body and spirit,” he said. “He was so important to so many people’s lives. His integrity is something everyone who knew him would agree on.”
“I hope to take all of those things he did to inspire me … and I’m going to do my best to live them,” St. Germaine told the News Tribune. “He was a year younger than me but ultimately, he was my hero.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.