A new book by award-winning writer and Carleton University journalism professor Brett Popplewell tells the remarkable life story of Dag Aabye, a reclusive and enigmatic athlete who competed in ultra-marathons well into his 70s.

Outsider: An Old Man, A Mountain and the Search for a Hidden Past, which comes out April 25, traces Aabye’s journey from Nazi-occupied Norway, where he was born, to Argentina and, eventually, British Columbia. The 384-page book chronicles how a child born under mysterious circumstances during World War II found his way onto the big screen in Goldfinger, was heralded as the world’s first extreme skier, and was later driven into the B.C. wilderness.

Image of Brett Popplewell and Dag Aabye

Popplewell began working on the story nearly eight years ago when he flew to B.C.’s Okanagan Valley to track down Aabye, who lives alone in a school bus parked in a forest. At the time, Aabye was a regular participant in the Canadian Death Race, a 125-kilometre ultramarathon. The annual race sends runners up and down three summits in the Rocky Mountain foothills and across a river in Alberta. Aabye has finished the Death Race seven times, always as its oldest competitor. Popplewell followed him on his final attempt in 2016 when Aabye was 75.

Photo of Dag Aabye

Aabye lives without electricity or running water. He does not have a telephone or internet. Over the years, Popplewell has flown to B.C. a dozen times to conduct on-the-ground reporting and interview Aabye. Popplewell also undertook archival research in multiple countries while researching the book. In 2018, the pair travelled to Norway and Sweden together to reconnect Aabye with his adoptive family and search for information about his biological parents. Aabye was born in Norway in 1941 and didn’t know much about his birth parents.

“Outsider is the most difficult story I’ve ever tried to write,” said Popplewell. “Dag espouses a simple life in the forest, but his backstory is extremely complicated. The twists and turns of his life are not easy to follow. I wasn’t just interested in what he did or how. I also wanted to know why he did what he did and lived the way he lived. And to do that, we had to go back to where he came from.

“We both lived a lot of life while I was working on this project. Dag was 74 when I first met him. He’s now 81. There were times in between when I wasn’t sure if he’d still be with us when the book came out. I’m glad to have captured his story while I could.”

Popplewell has dedicated Outsider to his mother, Marie, who is also a character in the book. She died while he was writing the first draft. Popplewell wrote parts of the book in a palliative care ward and then read elements of the book to her.

Brett Popplewell on CTV, Your morning

A brief excerpt from the book has appeared in the Toronto Star.

Outsider is Popplewell’s second book with HarperCollins. His first book, The Escapist: How One Man Cheated Death on the World’s Highest Mountains, was the memoir of one of Canada’s foremost mountaineers Gabriel Filippi. It was a best seller.

Since joining Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication in 2017, Popplewell has taught everything from foundational lecture and reporting courses to senior workshops on long-form feature and sports-writing, and working as a freelancer.

“Brett is one of Canada’s most award-winning and prolific long-form writers, all the more remarkable given that he teaches journalism full-time here at Carleton. Quite frankly, I don’t know how he does it,” said Allan Thompson, the Journalism Program Head at Carleton. “Brett weaves an incredible tale about an incredible character with Outsider. But another of the incredible characters we meet in this book is Brett himself, whose compassion, humanity and dedication to the craft of journalism is on every page of this book.”

A National Magazine Award winner, Popplewell has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, Mother Jones, The Globe and Mail, Sportsnet, Maclean’s and The Walrus, among other publication. He is also the founding editor of Feathertale, an award-winning literary humour magazine.

Outsider will be officially launched in Ottawa on May 7 with an event at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. The event will be hosted by Popplewell’s colleague, Prof. Sarah Everts, the CTV Chair in Digital Science Journalism.

Monday, April 24, 2023 in ,
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