Cummisford to Compete in his 33rd American Birkebeiner

Author: Carroll University

Published Date: 1/16/2020

Categories: Alumni F1RST Magazine F1RST Spring 2020


Hustle. Think.
And Glide.


His father’s advice has worked out pretty well for Jeff Cummisford ’73
Jeff Cummisford in 2018
Jeff Cummisofrd '73 competing in the 2018 American Birkebeiner

HUSTLE AND THINK. Work hard, be prepared, and then be present. Pay attention and figure out what you need to be doing. Do it.

If you lined up alongside Jeff Cummisford ’73 on the football field for the Pioneers in the early ’70s, you’d likely recognize the approach, if not the exact words.

It’s a philosophy he learned from his father, and clearly it still serves him well. On Feb. 22, if all goes well and the snow sticks around, Cummisford will compete in the Slumberland American Birkebeiner for the 33rd time. 

This will be the 46th running of the cross-country ski marathon, a 50 -or 55-kilometer race from Cable to Hayward in northwestern Wisconsin that draws upwards of 10,000 people to compete in several events over a long weekend. Since he first stepped up to the starting line, Cummisford has missed racing twice—once when he was recovering from a snowblower accident and once when the race itself was canceled due to lack of snow.

“It’s the Boston Marathon of cross-country skiing,” he said, “a world-class athletic event.”

Why keep at it? “Each year is different. The snow is different. The temperatures can be zero or 45 degrees,” he said. “Each year, you get a new story.”

Cummisford didn’t ski as a child. Football was his sport. Though just 5' 9" and 160 pounds, Cummisford excelled on the field. At Carroll, he recorded 18 career interceptions and was co-captain of the team in 1972. In 2002, he was elected to the Carroll Athletic Hall of Fame. “I’m not a big guy but I was a good player and I played with really good guys,” he said. “My dad had this philosophy: hustle and think. Following that has made me a better athlete and a better person throughout my life.”

In a roundabout way, Carroll had a role in his discovery of skiing. He met his wife, Lynn Tonjes ’73, at a square dance in the school’s ballroom in his freshman year. “My biggest accomplishment at Carroll was having Lynn select me,” he said. 

In his sophomore year, she took him skiing. A few years later, his sister-in-law’s husband introduced him to cross-country. He was bitten by the bug. And then came the Birkie.

“It truly became Birkie fever for me,” he noted. His son, Kevin, competes as well, as do several Carroll alumni and classmates of Cummisford, including Don Becker ’73, Rick Wheeler ’73 and Jay Woodard ’72. “In fact, Jay and I finished within a minute of each other a good 10 times and never saw each other the whole race.”

It took Cummisford six hours and 32 minutes to finish his first race, using the traditional method in which skiers zoom along in parallel grooves in the snow. His fastest time came 12 years ago, when he completed the 50k skating course in two hours and 48 minutes. 

“My dad has this philosophy: Hustle and Think. Following that has made me a better athlete and a better person."

— Jeff Cummisford '73 (pictured in 2001)

The 'Birkie' is a 50- or 55 kilometer ski race held in northwestern Wisconsin.
Jeff Cummisford in 1988

He may have slowed down slightly, but his drive is as strong as ever. When you complete your 20th Birkie, you’re recognized as a Birchlegger and given a special purple racing bib. Cummisford, who passed that milestone years ago, is now eying his 40th. But he’s not done there. Worldloppet is an organization that promotes cross-country skiing around the globe and comprises 20 ski marathons on six continents. Compete in 10, and you’re recognized as a Worldloppet Master.

“I now have six of them,” Cummisford said. He hopes to add two more—in Austria and Italy—before this Birkie. And to keep going. He keeps in shape by skiing when he can and by mountain biking in warmer weather. He and wife Lynn also remain involved with Carroll, and hosted an alumni snowshoe hike at Prairie Springs this February.

HUSTLE AND THINK. 

It’s the same philosophy that has driven his business life. Back in his days at Carroll, he realized he needed to find a job to help pay the bills. A business professor directed him to what was then Waukesha Savings and Loan, where he worked as a teller while finishing his studies. 

“I took that road all the way to the top,” Cummisford told the Pioneer magazine in a 2003 article. He remained at the savings and loan for 18 years, becoming the head of lending, before accepting an offer to work for TCF Bank. In 1997, he founded Amerihome Mortgage, growing it from 24 employees to 154 employees operating in nine states. He retired three years ago after 43 years in the banking industry.  

Along the way, he has remained active and involved with Carroll, where he met his wife and found his way to that banking career. He served on the board of trustees for eight years and, in 2009, was awarded the P.E. MacAllister Distinguished Alumnus Award for Service to Carroll

Business, life, school, football, skiing—his father’s advice paid off. HUSTLE. AND THINK.

Awards Anyone?

Do you know a Carroll  graduate who has excelled in their profession, in the their community, as a young alumna/nus, or in their service to Carroll?  If so, please  consider nominating Carroll graduates for the following awards in 2021:

The deadline for 2021 nominations is May 31, 2020

Nominate a Carroll Graduate today!
 

Stay Informed With F1RST Magazine