Karl Holub, 21

Birkies: Two

2015 Birkie: Wave 1, classic

The University of Minnesota Nordic Ski Club might rival some countries with the number of Birkie skiers it's sending north this year. Of the 95 club members, nearly 60 will race.

A major contributor is a $5,000 grant that the club won in a competitive application process, said treasurer Karl Holub. The governing body of the university's sports clubs — everything from fencing to rugby to skiing — awards the money. The club will pick up race registration and lodging for its contingent.

For his part, Holub will race his third Birkie classic. His first, during his freshman year, was in 2013. He bonked at the 40-kilometer mark and struggled in. Last year, he raced smarter, and improved. This year his goal is a top-70 finish and an elite wave qualifier. "You get hooked pretty much after the first one," he said.

Holub, who grew up in New Brighton, first skied competitively in high school after injuries piled up in "contact sports." His low-impact alternative was Nordic skiing. Now a junior at the university, Holub's commitment to skiing is firm — he's overcome two knee surgeries in the last three years — even if his perspective has changed.

Balancing school studies and training is a challenge, Holub said. "The adult world kind of hits hard."

"I still like to think of myself as a competitive skier, but it's definitely harder to have it just be about the races. I do enjoy the recreational aspects of it as well. Just going out there and getting on some trails."

But that adult world has its perks — at least in a Birkie context. Holub, 21, said he is looking forward to his first Jägermeister shot on Lake Hayward a few kilometers shy of the finish.