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Team Birkie: “The Love For Cross-Country Skiing Is Enormous In Minneapolis And The Team Feels Very Supported”

Team Birkie is a professional team based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. As in many other nations, the major cross-country ski locations have professional teams to help the athletes become world-class skiers. 

Photo: Todd Andersson

Team Birkie, although relatively new, is no exception. With a high-quality training site nearby, this team is coached by Caitlin Gregg, an Olympian and World Championship medalist with a vast background in coaching throughout her active ski career. ProXCskiing talked with Gregg and one of their athletes, Zak Ketterson, about the team’s training philosophy and its goals to qualify several athletes for the World Cup and national team in the upcoming years. 

Caitlin Gregg tells:

“Our ultimate goal as a program is to help athletes reach their goals in skiing and be the best skiers they can be. We, as a program, want to get behind athletes who are qualifying for international competitions like the World Cup and World Championships/Olympics 100%. When our top athlete Zak Ketterson qualified for his first World Cups at the Tour de Ski, we were able to fund him, a coach, and a wax tech to support his racing. We feel that this is a very important part of our philosophy.”

Top Class Coaching and Training Opportunities 

Gregg’s experience at a high level as an athlete and as a coach, as she occasionally coached youth, junior and collegiate athletes during her career and even helped her husband Brian Gregg to qualify for Olympics in 2014, was one of the building blocks to start professional team in the Minnesota area. 

“I was fortunate throughout my career to work with some incredible coaches, and the last 10 years of my career, I was writing and executing my own training. A professional team like Team Birkie was something our region had been trying to put together for a long time but didn’t have all of the support and coaching behind it until I was available. With my experience as an athlete competing at the highest level and all over the world, I have a good sense of what it takes not only physically but mentally and support of a club team behind you, to succeed at the highest level.”

Currently, the team has two coaches and an assistant coach/technician ensuring the daily programming. Gregg states: “We have eight year-round professional athletes who attend training six days a week from May-April. We also support strength sessions twice a week. We build a pipeline of athletes by also coaching college athletes (22) in the summer who we hope will join our professional team when they graduate. We also have a marathon focused team for athletes who no longer want to compete regularly on our continental cup circuit but want to continue training and competing on the local marathon circuit. These athletes have raced at a high level, and we want them to share their knowledge and experience with the community.” 

High Goals 

In the first year of function, the team had athletes racing various events, but this season the focus will be on the local continental cup and helping the athletes qualify for World Cup.

“In my first full year as a coach, it was a learning experience for me to let the athletes have more of a say in what they wanted to focus on. This season we are focusing our professional team on our local continental cup with focus on preparing for the World Cup and only racing marathons at the end of the season. We feel this will allow the team to help the athletes more at the races they are at,” Gregg says. 

In the short term, Team Birkie seeks to focus on helping each athlete to reach their potential.

“We want to continue to raise the bar together by continuing to support athletes when and where they need it during the training and racing year. We want to see at least one of our athletes qualify for the World Championships in Slovenia this year.” 

Their big goal, however, is the World Cup at the home venue in Minneapolis in 2024.

Our long-term goals are to have six athletes qualify for the World Cups in 2024 that will be here in Minneapolis and in Hayward, WI.” 

Athletes Enjoy the Surroundings 

“Minneapolis is a place that makes me happy for many reasons. Our community is amazing, and there are so many fun things to do when you aren’t training. I also have a ton of trust in my coaches Leo and Caitlin because they have known me for so many years and I know that they really want me to be successful. I am really confident that Team Birkie and Minneapolis have what it takes to make me into the best skier I can be,” says Zak Ketterson.

Ketterson, who represented the US in 13 World Cups the past season, with a personal best 15th place in 15km skate in Falun and was part of the winning squad of the mixed relay team in the World Cup Finals in Falun, enjoys the opportunities that the team and its surroundings offer. 

“I think one of the most important things any athlete needs for them to be successful is to be happy. The biggest advantage for me is my support system. My coaches, teammates, and even my girlfriend Julie, who lives with me in our apartment in Minneapolis. It is an amazing benefit for me to have a team of people around you that all really want to see you succeed. ” 

Ketterson is also part of the US national B-Team, but his daily training will still be focused around Minneapolis with Team Birkie. 

“I will still be training mostly with Team Birkie in the Summer and Fall. I am planning to go to two US Ski Team Camps, one in the summer and one in the fall. We are planning to go to Norway in August for the Topidrettsveka rollerski races and then to Park City, UT in October for an altitude camp. I am also hoping to race World Cup with the US Team at the start of the winter, but those decisions are still being made.”

“Short term, I want to just continue improving on my results from last year. I skied some World Cups last year, but I am hoping to ski even more next season. My long-term goal is to become a skier that can compete for podiums on the World Cup. I know that I have a ton of work to do before this can become a reality but seeing other skiers from Minnesota like Jessie Diggins do it really makes it feel like it’s possible,” concludes Zak Ketterson.

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