Racing with greatness in the American Birkebeiner

Bjørn. Photo:

Bjørn. Photo:

Ian Duncan can do more than imagine the drive Norwegian hero Bjørn Dæhlie called upon to win eight Olympic gold medals in cross-country skiing.

The Madison-based neuroscientist has tapped his own similar devotion to a goal, in his rise to the forefront of research in the fight against multiple sclerosis.

World-recognized in far different fields, Duncan and Dæhlie have become friends who share passions for cross-country skiing and finding a cure for a debilitating disease.

Their mutual interests first brought the two together in Dæhlie’s Norwegian home and will do so again on Saturday at the start line of the American  Birkebeiner race at the Telemark Resort in Cable.

Duncan, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the lead researcher studying the use of cell transplants to repair nerve fibers damaged by MS.

His research and reputation led to a call from a Dæhlie family friend in 2004, and the doctor traveled to Norway to meet with the skier’s mother, Bjørg. Her mobility has been severely limited by the disease that attacks her nervous system.

A few years later, the doctor coaxed the Nordic champion to join 7,000 skiers in one of the largest races in the world and help raise money for research that may help his mother.

Dæhlie will be the ambassador for multiple sclerosis research and the Birkie Skiers for Cures in the race’s 36th running.

In previous years, Birkie charity efforts have raised $84,000, shared among the Susan G. Komen breast cancer fund, the Arthritis Foundation and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

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