The Secret to Aging in Style!

The Biography of the Local Hayward Legend Nancy Bauer.

Many years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Bauer while picking blueberries with my two girls at the Bauer Berry Farm in Champlin, MN. Prior to this, I had met her son and Olympian, John Bauer, during the time we were both on the Rossignol racing team. I have recently connected with Nancy up in Hayward, WI where she and Bill retired just a mile down the road from our cabin.

 It has been inspiring to watch Nancy thrive in her retirement years leading various ski training groups along with competing in World Masters Championship races in both triathlons and Nordic skiing. I am amazed at her commitment to volunteering in a variety of ways in the ski community of Hayward. It has been a pleasure to interview Nancy about her life experiences. Get ready to lean in and hear pearls of wisdom and inspiration from this woman’s legendary life!

Nancy on the tractor with her two grandchildren on the Bauer Berry Farm.

Nancy was born at her home in Osseo, MN, and lived her formative years on a dairy and beef cattle farm. Nancy stated, “My Mother was very influential in my development, as she was my role model for domestic endeavors. I learned how to sew, cook, garden, and preserve food from her. My mother was a child of the depression years, so she passed on her frugal but practical ways of getting by in tough times. It was a time when the men had their chores and the women ran the household. I never learned to drive a tractor as a child, as my brothers and male cousins did all the farm chores.” 

Nancy cultivating the farm land.

Nancy met her husband Bill in 1965, as a college freshman. She met through a mutual friend and dated for three years before eloping to South Dakota to get married in 1968.  They started farming from the inspiration of her father, who had sold his farm and then reinvested the money into 34 acres that would become the Bauer Berry Farm in Champlin. The Bauers moved into an old farmhouse and lived there for 29 years before having it demolished and building a new home. They remained there until the Berry Farm was sold in 2021.

The “teens” working on the farm.

Nancy said, “Our sons were ages five and seven when we first started growing strawberries. The boys had easy jobs, and we paid them an hourly wage which they soon saved in their own bank account at age twelve. They invited their friends to help too, which made them more eager to work.”

“I remember our Son Bruce complaining that customers were not following his directions. He was given an adult job around the age of eight years old, so no wonder the drivers didn’t want to take directions from a child. To us, he was extremely qualified, and we didn’t view him as a child at all.”

Nancy with a 50 pound backpack sprayer in the blueberry fields.

“Our sons learned the value of a good day’s work and to this day, they can both outwork anyone on arduous tasks. John’s wood piles and Bruce’s rock walls in Duluth are proof of that.” said Nancy.

The Bauer’s have two grandchildren, who live close to them in Hayward. When the grandchildren were younger they came down to help work at the farm in Champlin. Granddaughter Anneliese learned the skills of selling produce and Bryce, who was very little, became an expert at folding berry-picking boxes.

Nancy working in the fruit stand at the Bauer Berry Farm with her two grandchildren.

Nancy learned how to cross-country ski by attending clinics put on by Norm Oakvik in 1971. Cross-country skiing was in its infancy in the Twin Cities Metro area as a recreational sport. Nancy dabbled at races as a young mother and managed to win her age group awards. Nancy stated, “My first race was the VJC where participants skied between the towns of Victoria, Jonathan, and Chaska in the West Metro. Having grown up in a time when there were no sports for girls, this was my chance to be a participant. I loved it.”

Nancy passed on her passion for Nordic skiing to both of her sons John and Bruce. “Both of our sons were very athletic and excelled at Nordic Skiing. They had the advantage over their peers of learning skills at a very young age,” said Nancy. During their high school years, both boys raced in USSA competitions around the Midwest in addition to their school races.”

” We traveled every weekend to various races in our iconic green Ford family van.”  John won the MN state meet twice and both sons competed at Junior Nationals. John competed in three Winter Olympics (1992,1998 and 2002) along with five World Championships. In 1996 he won four races at the US National Championships, only the second skier to sweep all the events. He has twice won the Finlandia Award from US Skiing for his role in promoting the sport.

Nancy racing at the 2011 World Masters Championships in Canada

Nancy stated, “People often ask what it was like to raise an Olympian. My answer is that we always recognized the accomplishments of both of our sons and did not want to show favoritism to either John or Bruce. They were equally talented, but when it came to race time, John seemed to find an extra gear. We were so thrilled at his successes. I was a French teacher, so for his first Olympics, I took advantage of that language skill to make Les Saisies even more of an adventure. We did not travel to Japan for Nagano but made sure that nothing would keep us from attending the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.”

 “What fun to have the world’s best athletes come to the US (and suffer the same jet lag that American skiers had endured for years in Europe). Salt Lake was a very spectator-friendly Olympic site, and of course, the American competitors nearly had the course memorized. Skiing among race volunteers who knew the athletes personally and on their home turf was a huge advantage. Bill and I knew so many of the fans and it seemed that Americans made an extra effort to be in the crowd. We were in the stands only one day since the best viewing was always out on the course”, shared Nancy.

Skiing has now been passed on to the Bauer third generation, with both grandchildren competing on the Hayward Nordic team. Once Nancy and Bill retired from teaching they could spend their winters in Hayward and were able to see their grandchildren on a regular basis. The Bauer family built their Hayward cabin in 1985. “That is, we were the builders and hired out only a few of the tasks. It has its share of mistakes, but since 2021 we can now call it our home.” shared Nancy.

 In 2008 Nancy and a handful of other women including Linda Cook and Juli Lynch were motivated to start a women’s training group in Hayward, which is now called the Ski and Tea. The training group’s goal is to have every woman who comes feel successful and proud to be a skier. The group is a mix of abilities and ages with a motto of “No woman left behind”. The first session had eight women and has now grown to over four hundred women on the weekly newsletter list.

Nancy and her friends on the Podium after a triathlon.

“ I am amazed to see the growth, as we are always welcoming new members.  It keeps getting better and I never want to miss a Friday. I’m part of the coaching staff, and we are proud to say that we are a self-sustaining force in the Hayward/Cable area.” Shared Nancy.

In addition to coaching the Ski and Tea group, she has volunteered for many years with the Hayward Nordic Ski Team as well as other women’s ski clinics such as the Birkie”s Ski de She camp. She also enjoys giving private ski lessons to beginner skiers. In recognition of the need for women to include strength training for bone health, she started a neighborhood bi-weekly coed training group at the 00 Trailhead called “Strength in Numbers”.  “Socialization is an integral component of our success,” stated Nancy. 

Around twelve years ago, Nancy began competing in triathlons at the urging of her training partner, Connie Meek. They are now the oldest female competitors in most of the Midwest sprint triathlons. Nancy was invited to participate in the Age Group Nationals in 2021. “It was a great experience and I was thrilled to qualify for further competition, namely the World Age Group competition in Montreal in 2022. I was exhilarated to finish 3rd at that event! What a thrill to be on the big stage and in a country where I could speak French.” stated Nancy.

Nancy Bauer at the World Masters event in Autrans, France

 Cross-country skiing has also taken Nancy to some amazing venues for ski competitions. She began competing at the World Masters Ski Championships in Brusson, Italy in 2006. “Every year the event takes place in a different country, so it’s like a travel vacation package based around 4 ski races. There is always an off day to visit the local region and expand your horizons. Through WMC races, I have traveled to Italy, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, and Canada.  Both the skiing and triathlon world masters events offer an opportunity to meet fellow athletes from around the globe.” stated Nancy.

Nancy running the last leg of a Triathlon

When asking Nancy about struggles with aging and any advice she has to offer, she shared, “As an aging athlete, I face the problem of travel logistics and it’s no longer easy to leave my husband behind. My caregiving duties are always foremost in my mind. Aside from that glitch, I still have lots of energy and enthusiasm for the next great adventure. My best advice is to keep moving, climbing stairs, stretching, and practicing your balance. There are so many opportunities to find inspiration. Sign up for an event and the rest will happen. Find a training partner, or group, since socialization is a critical component to make the above recipe work.”

When Nancy is not ski training you can find her behind the sewing machine. Nancy stated, “I began my sewing passion by making clothes for dolls, but soon graduated to making most of my own clothes. It was a way to have very distinctive items, so designing was part of my skill set. I even made some money sewing for friends in high school. Now that I have retired I discovered that I have way too many clothes, so sewing endeavors have morphed into repurposing items from my shelves or from thrift stores.  I had to find a purpose for all my race t-shirts, and bibs. I made a few Tyvek bib skirts from race sweatshirts, and some zipper bags from race bibs.” 

Nancy wearing her homemade Birkie bib hoodie!

Nancy asked the Birke staff if they would part with some of their leftover race bibs and age class award ribbons so that she could make new items out of them. Her sewing partner in crime is Julie Virkus, with whom she shares a passion to repurpose items so they do not end up in a landfill. “Between the two of us, we come up with unique items that are used to benefit nonprofits. So far, we have donated to Protect our Winters, the Emily Program, and the Hayward Nordic ski team,” stated Nancy.

Nancy began skiing the Birkie in 1984 and has only missed a few to follow her sons’ races or World Masters. She started competing in the Korte race when muscle cramping prevented completing the long Birkie marathon distance. Between the two events, she has done around thirty-five Birkie events.

Barkie Birkie costumes designed by Nancy Bauer!

 “ I love to dress in costume to be an upbeat figure racing down the trail. Sometimes it’s the US women’s relay socks or my homemade Birke bib skirt. It’s fun to have the distraction of skiers whizzing by and commenting on my attire. I become a distraction for other competitors to take their minds off of their muscle pains. Likewise, they give me feedback that they notice my crazy style. I find motivation in creating costumes, as in the Barkie Birkie with dog costumes, and now for races. When I can no longer ski, I will put my creativity into making nutritional snacks. There’s a whole new world out there!”

I hope this biography has encouraged you to get out there and carpe diem or simply put in English, seize the day!

Kim Rudd, Owner of Endurance Adventures