Muriel Gilman crosses the finish line.Muriel Gilman crosses the finish line of the Minnesota Finlandia Ski Marathon in 1984. She won the 100K race that year.

Strengthening community through sport

School of Kinesiology alum honored for lifetime achievement in skiing

With a love for snow and sliding, Muriel “Mur” Gilman donned her first pair of skis at five years old. In the years to come, she would build a lifetime of achievement and influence in the world of skiing.

Growing up in Glenwood, Minnesota, Gilman started exploring skiing at an early age. She began with sliding down the sidewalk, the hill behind her house, and “kicking around” with her brother on her father’s hunting land. Soon, she would become a champion ski marathon racer and an integral part of Minnesota’s cross country community.

In 1975, Gilman moved to Bemidji to be an athletic trainer and to teach at Bemidji State University (BSU). It was then that she bought her first pair of cross country skis. While teaching at BSU, she also coached the men’s and women’s cross country ski teams. Leading these teams was rewarding for both Gilman and the athletes. Through her six years of coaching from 1986 to 1992, she transformed the club sport into an award-winning, technically advanced, and nationally recognized team. 

Gilman focused on training her teams to be smart and not overtraining them. With her leadership, the teams built a strong sense of community and friendship together despite initial hesitations about having a woman as a coach. “I think that once we smoothed out all the differences we had, we had a lot of success and a lot of comradery,” Gilman reflected. She fostered lifelong relationships with those she coached and still connects with her former athletes by being invited to graduations and other events. 

To further her professional career at BSU, Gilman came to the University of Minnesota in 1981. She completed her PhD in physical education and exercise physiology through the School of Kinesiology. Gilman says her dissertation on diet and carbohydrate consumption during prolonged exercise was very helpful for her success in ski marathons. Additionally, her time spent studying physiology and biochemistry was especially enjoyable and engaging. “I was really grateful that I could spend time at the U of M as a grad student. There’s so much vibrancy with cutting-edge findings,” she says.

Gilman’s contributions do not stop there. When her coaching days at BSU ended, she joined the Bemidji Area Cross Country Ski Club to serve in leadership roles. There she was instrumental in the creation of the Sunday Ski School. The Sunday Ski School provides affordable, high-quality instruction to children and adults on the basics of cross country skiing. 

One of Gilman’s favorite parts of skiing today is being able to take her dog along. Passionate about pets, she was also able to work with the ski club to turn a 10K section of trail into a multi-use, well-groomed trail where dogs can join in on the fun. “We got no complaints. It’s pretty successful, I feel pretty good about that and so does my dog,” she says.

In commemoration of Gilman’s commitment to improving cross country skiing, the Minnesota Nordic Ski Association (MNSA) awarded her with its 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes those who have significantly contributed to the advancement of cross country skiing in Minnesota. Gilman’s passion for the sport has greatly impacted the strength of her community and the legacy of skiing in Bemidji. 

Muriel Gilman receiving an award.
Muriel Gilman (left) receives a 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota Nordic Skiing Association.

Nowadays, Gilman has no shortage of activities in which she’s involved. She still contributes to the Bemidji Area Cross Country Ski Club, and during the summer months helps to organize the Loop the Lake Festival, a summer event where hundreds of bike riders circle Lake Bemidji. In addition, she enjoys harvesting wild rice, tapping maple trees, brewing beer, and visiting her condo in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. 

Gilman’s dedication to skiing has filled her life with accomplishment and strengthened the surrounding community. Her advice to those who wish to give back to their community is to figure out what you are passionate about, and the rest will come easily. “You gotta find the right thing to do…If you find the right passion, then giving is the easy way to go,” she says.