Ski the Beach draws hundreds, raises thousands, to honor Johnson’s memory

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 18:23
  • Dressed as Big Bird, Erin Johnson’s husband Abe Schmidt skis along at the outset of the race. (Photo for the Star by Michael Dinneen)
  • From left, Karen Mannix of Talkeetna, Riley Harty and Jim Singleton of Eagle River are all smiles prior the start of the race Sunday afternoon. (Photo for the Star by Michael Dinneen)
  • Steve and Barb Johnson speak to the skiers prior to the start of the Ski the Beach ski race at Beach Lake Trails in Chugiak Sunday afternoon. The event raised more than $4,000, with $2,500 in cash donations, for the Erin Johnson Memorial Fund. (Photo for the Star by Michael Dinneen)

Under brilliant blue skies last Sunday afternoon, Steve Johnson, with his wife Barb beside him, addressed a crowd of some 200-some colorfully clad skiers gathered at Beach Lake Ski Trails Sunday afternoon, thanking them for their support over the last nine months.

Not that he needed or wanted extra time to speak, but the race start was delayed due to the last-minute influx of registrants wanting to join the annual Ski The Beach race, held the last Sunday of February at the trails to support the local ski club.

This year’s event was different because of a tragedy last June.

The Johnsons lost their daughter Erin in a bear mauling at a remote camp in the Interior near the Pogo mine while she was working to collect soil samples as part of her job with Alaska Biological Research Inc., so the tightly-knit community renamed the event to honor her memory and the memorial fund established by her parents to keep up her legacy of getting kids outdoors.

Johnson thanked the crowd for turning out, for their emotional support, and for wearing such bright costumery, which he said was a favorite theme of Erin’s — to dress brightly for ski races.

“Sunday was a bittersweet day filled with emotion for many of us who loved Erin,” wrote Barb Johnson on her Facebook page. “Steve and I were totally overwhelmed with the turnout for Erin’s memorial ski race.”

In the crowd surrounded by friends was Erin’s husband Abe Schmidt, dressed in an orange bird costume. The couple had been married only 10 days prior to the attack.

“I like to think that Erin was right there with all of us,” Barb Johnson wrote. “Her beautiful spirit certainly was shining through in so many ways. A huge thank you to the Chugiak-Eagle River Nordic Ski Club for asking us if they could sponsor this race and to all of the volunteers who pitched in to make it happen. Words cannot express our deep gratitude for the amount of love and support we received from so many in the community!!

“Thanks SO MUCH for coming out and being part of this special day to remember Erin and keep her spirit alive through events like this one and donations to the Erin K. Johnson Memorial Fund, which will go back into the community to support science education, getting kids outdoors, and protecting wild places. #thisonesforerin”

Inside the chalet event organizer Meg Stehn was counting the donations that she said “usually amounted to about $200 or $300.”

This year the cash donations alone topped $2,500. With more than 200 registered skiers for the event it raised more than $4,000.

The generosity, she said, “makes me feel so good, because people just loved Erin.”

After he finished speaking, Steve Johnson prepared to join the rest of the skiers, wearing a pair of skate skis with the name Erin Johnson written in magic marker on the sidewalls.

“Life will never be the same for us, but the love and support we have received from the community continues to surround us on our journey of grief and loss of our only daughter, Erin. Thanks for keeping her spirit alive,” wrote Barb Johnson.

For the record, Kate Fitzgerald led the adult women at 51:57, while Chugiak High School cross-country ski coach Cody Priest paced the 15K adult men entrants with a time of 45:58.

Rita Medland led the 7K female youth at 23:17 and Aidan Houser led the 7K boys at 31:43. Laura Hilger led the 7K adult women at 25:35. Nate Kristich led the 7K adult men at 25:40.

Zoee Beiergrohslein led the 3K female youth at 13:31, Ian Caldwell won the 3K male youth at 13:58, Sadie Johnson led the 3K adult female at 13:10 and Max Beiergrohslein led the 3K adult men at 9:32.

The 1K female youths were led by Kendall Gaulle at 15:42 and the 1K boys Quinn Urbanas at 10:21, while Christy Taylor led the adults at 18:47.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the print version to include statements provided by Barb Johnson.

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