An 85 years old cross country skier at the Masters Games

The Québec City Winter World Masters Games will welcome athletes ages 30 to 100 from January 31 to February 8, 2015. Participants at the Maters Games share with us their journey and passion for their sport.  
This week, we had the pleasure of talking with Thor Vikstrom, 85 years young, who will compete in the cross crountry skiing competition.  He is the President of Scanvest Canada and was born in Boden, Sweden.  Thor then immigrated to the United States in 1956 and eventually settled in Laval, Québec, in 1976.  He and Gerd, his wife of 62 years, have three children and six grandchildren.  At 85, he is an avid skier and cyclist.  
Here’s what he had to say.
How did you discover cross country skiing?
I was born in 1929 in Boden, Sweden, a town not far from the Arctic Circle. When I was young, cross country skiing was the means of transportation.  Winters were long and some days had less than three hours of daylight.   One traveled by train, horse or ski.  Ford set up some assembly plants in southern Sweden but we did not have the money to purchase a car even when they became available to us.  I learned quickly that I needed to be a good skier.
My first recollection of skiing as a sport was when I was around 9 years old.  My mother belonged to a religious group that had an annual ski race and she entered me in the race that year.  This would be in 1939 or 1940, World War II had begun.   I won that race, and the following two years, and was hooked on competition from that point on.  I remember shortly thereafter getting a book that listed all of the winter races of the Swedish Olympic cross country skiers.  I started to keep track of the races and who won which race, similar to how kids today keep statistics on hockey players.
I’ve never forgotten finishing one of these races and overhearing one of the adult skiers saying to another that I skied like Sven Utterstrom. Sven Utterstrom was a hero in Boden.  An Olympic skier, a Champion.  There was no higher praise to a boy from Boden.  That little bit of praise carried me through many future races when I was tired and didn’t think I had power left in my legs.  It was different then, parents didn’t praise their kids.   In my young mind, I heard I could be a champion skier just like Sven Utterstrom.
Obviously ski changed your life.
There are some obvious things cross country skiing has done for me.  Longevity is probably the most important, especially now.  I am turning 86 in January and I am competing in the Winter World Masters Games.  What a gift the sport has given to me.
Are the Québec City Masters Games your first Masters competition? 
No, I skied in the first Winter World Masters Games in Bled, Slovenia in 2010.  I took two gold medals, one for the 10K Freestyle and the second for the 20K.
For these Masters Games, I’m in full swing with my training.  Every day, I roller ski for at least an hour and I am working out in my gym 4 times week.  I’m hoping this snow season starts early and I can get on snow by December.
I’m sure I will recognize skiers from the last Games.  There’s one American and a couple of Russian skiers that I will be keeping an eye on if they show up in my category.  I remember they were good competitors at the last Games.
I have had the opportunity to ski in races all over North America and Europe over the course of over 70+ years.  I stopped competing for many years when the responsibilities of life and family took over and I traveled for work.   In 1976, when my family was older and my career more established, I started skiing again as a “veteran”.  
My sport is what taught me to work hard to achieve a goal.  My competitions, training, wins and losses taught me how to strategize, calculate risk, respect and learn from my fellow competitors and that winning shouldn’t come easily.  My sport has given me far more than trophies and medals.
You must have anecdotes from all your years of training and competing. 
I can tell you about the proudest time I ever lost a race.  It was in 1995 in Canmore, Alberta.  I was ready to race and had been working out at the gym to increase my upper body strength for months.  Even though I was 64 years old I felt fitter than I had been in years.  
I was skiing a 20K race and at one point the course forked and the “senior” skiers were to go one way and the “junior” skiers the other.  When I came to the fork, the official motioned for me to go right and about 1 kilometer in I realized something was wrong.  I turned around and when I got back to the fork I found out he had sent me the wrong way.  I asked if anyone had come and was told there was one skier that had already passed.  I took off after him and eventually could see him and started to catch up.  I lost that race by just two seconds!  I did have a chance to compete against him again two days later in the 10K race.  I was determined to beat him.  I skied behind him and with two hundred meters to go I attacked and won by eight seconds!  It was a great race.
Anything else you want to share with our readers?
I’d like to pay tribute to some of the skiers who helped make this sport.   In the early 1950s, I had the opportunity to ski against Sixten Jernberg, Jernberg won that race, but I came in second.  Jernberg went on to win the 1954 World Championships, Olympic gold (s) and world championships.   I’ve admired his accomplishments and how he shaped our sport for half a century.   He passed away in 2012.  My son jokes that I am going to come in second again.
I’m not sure how many of the 2015 Masters Games competitors will remember “Jackrabbit” Johannsen.  He was a friend.  I forgave him for being Norwegian (a Swedish joke).  He was such a cross country enthusiast and I was happy he had the chance to see the revival of cross country skiing in Canada before he died.
After these Winter World Masters Games, I’ll be heading to Russia for the Masters World Cup in March. I’ll keep competing until I can’t anymore.  Hopefully, you’ll see me at the 2019 Winter World Masters Games although I would appreciate it if you would add a 90+ category for those games.  
Thank you Thor for sharing your incredible journey. Good luck at the Masters Games!