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Seventy years ago in the coastal mountains of Norway near the town of Sandnes, kids would gather on Sunday afternoons in March and April to ski to a peak overlooking the North Sea.

Once there, they could rest on bare rocks and soak up the sun — free from farm chores and with the darkest days of winter behind them. Best of all, they would return to class Monday morning with sun tans.

"That was the thing!'' said Odd Osland, an elite amateur cross-country skier who has lived in Minnesota for most of the past 50 years.

At 81, the retired manufacturing engineer continues to impress others with his trademark kindness and relentless skiing. Again this winter, he is returning to the starting lines of races in the United States, Canada and Europe. With amazing consistency, he wins. Medals and trophies from races in his age group dominate the kitchen in his Apple Valley townhome.

Last winter, for instance, he returned with four medals from the Masters World Cup Cross-Country Skiing championships in Canmore, Alberta. In March, he'll travel to Seefeld, Austria, for the same event. In a few weeks, he'll compete in the Sisu Ski Fest in Ironwood, Mich. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, he treats as holy days the City of Lakes Loppet and the American Birkebeiner.

"I'll keep racing until I'm 90 and then reassess,'' Osland said.

That is his stock answer to a question he fields endlessly. Another common question he gets: How do you pronounce your first name?

"That's my American problem,'' he said. "I usually tell people to say Ode.''

But in Norway, it's pronounced just like it's spelled. Hence, his personalized Minnesota license plate declares "Im Odd.'' He has a wry sense of humor.

Inside the Twin Cities cross-country skiing community, Osland is known for more than his longevity in racing and strict discipline in training. In a stack of papers on his kitchen table last week, there was a handwritten note from someone at the Loppet Foundation. It said, "Odd, you are actually the greatest! Thank you for being a rock for the Loppet and the entire ski community! You are amazing!''

He has volunteered time and given money to the Loppet, an outdoors-oriented, community-building organization based in Golden Valley. For him, personal interaction is the lifeblood of skiing.

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"After so many years it becomes like a family,'' Osland said. "The people are amazing.''

When giving advice to new skiers of any age, he'll bypass talk about the addictive atmosphere around racing and the self-sacrifice required to win. His core teaching about the sport is to find joy in it.

"Be persistent and enjoy winter by being outside with your friends,'' he once wrote in a published essay. "As we age, we face different challenges that may sideline us from time to time. Don't give up, keep a positive attitude and remember how much fun it is to ski!"

Making a new home

Osland grew up the oldest of six children on a family farm about 30 miles south of Stavanger, a seaport. Since birth, and still today, he has battled a rare bone disorder known as McCune-Albright syndrome. It caused lasting instability in his left femur, requiring him to wear a brace and to undergo surgeries when it broke.

"I was a weakling,'' he said of his youth. "Looking back, that's probably what motivated me'' to take on the physical challenges of skiing.

But that didn't happen until he settled in America. His three sisters and two brothers still live in Scandinavia, where brother Per Osland teaches theoretical particle physics at the University of Bergen. Odd said he felt a calling to leave the country in his late 20s after listening to elders talk about friends and family members who struck it rich in the land of opportunity.

His arrival in 1970 was in Cooperstown, N.D., a tiny community northwest of Fargo where cousins offered him a job on their farm. A downturn in the family business left him looking for new work, eventually punching a clock at a North Dakota factory that made field plows.

It was the start of a long career in manufacturing, including stops at Minneapolis-based Graco and a stint making medical-grade compressors and vacuum pumps in Northbrook, Ill. After five years in the Greater Chicago area, Osland returned to the Twin Cities with enough experience to work as a product designer and engineer. He won a job at 3M that lasted 25 years. He never obtained a college degree, but he took engineering classes along the way.

"I had a good feel for what machinery could do and how to make it,'' he said.

Ski racing for Osland started in 1990 when he entered his first American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wis., with friends. He got to know Bjorn Lasserud, an accomplished racer, and trained with him for nearly 20 years. As a regular participant in the Loppet Nordic Racing (LNR) training program, Osland also raced on Loppet teams.

Starting in 2008, he entered his first Master's World Cup race in McCall, Idaho. "I'm not the fastest skier in my age class in the world circuit, but fast enough that I'm usually picked to participate on the USA age class relay teams,'' he once said in a skiing interview. "I'm content with that. Just being a part of the excitement of competing and to be with fit and like-minded people.''

Jo-Ann Wittman, a close friend of Osland, said it's difficult for him to dwell on specific skiing accomplishments. "You have to pull things out of him,'' she said. "He never says anything about himself.''

According to an old magazine clipping, Osland finished first in his age class in the Birkebeiner in both 2012 and 2013, after placing second on three separate occasions. He said he likes to push himself and experience the result of it.

One of his skiing heroes is Norwegian cross-country legend Oddvar Bra, revered in his country for overcoming a broken ski pole during a sprint to the finish line at the 1982 World Championships in Oslo. Bra was known as a man of the people who pushed himself to such extremes during races that he would hallucinate. The point was not to endure the agony, he would say, but to enjoy it.

Wittman sees a trace of that in Osland, who has suffered frostbite on his face more than once during training runs.

"He'll say, 'In a way, it's a good thing … takes off some dead skin,''' she said.

But Wittman said Osland, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Norway, also has a softer side. He's an amateur photographer who has won ribbons in local competitions and is renowned among friends for his bread-baking hobby. Cranberry wheat bread is one of his favorites.

Osland and his ex-wife, Carol, raised four children. Tragedy struck their family in October 1997 when their only daughter, Kari, died at age 16 in a car crash in Apple Valley. She was a cheerleader at Eastview High School.

"She was my best friend,'' Osland said.

To stay fit during summers, Osland rides his bike and works out on roller skis. He idolizes Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins of Afton and met her father on roller skiing training runs on the Gateway State Trail in Washington County.

Formerly a regular on the cross-county trails at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis, he now bases his winter skiing at Hyland Hills Ski Area in Bloomington and Terrace Oaks Park in Burnsville.

He's in it for the long haul even though his doctor recently ordered heart monitoring for episodes of atrial fibrillation. "I've noticed it, yes, and they will look at all that,'' Osland said. "Basically I think I'm OK.''