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Travel woes force elite Grandma's Marathon runners to hitch a ride

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sports Duluth, 55802
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

Travel woes for Cheryl and Hugh Reitan of Duluth became a blessing for elite marathoner Gisela Olalde on Wednesday in Chicago.

The Reitans were laid over at O’Hare Airport, headed home from a family reunion in Nashville, Tenn. Their flight was scheduled to depart Chicago at 9:30 a.m., but the severe weather that has pummeled the Midwest of late nixed those plans.

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And so it was for thousands of travelers Wednesday at O’Hare. Among the stranded were a small group of elite runners making their way to Grandma’s Marathon. That included Olalde, a native of Mexico living in Nashville. She had struck up a conversation with the Reitans, who decided to rent a car and drive home. Olalde gladly accepted their invitation to tag along.

The three left Chicago about 3 p.m. and made it to Duluth by midnight, dropping Olalde off at her downtown hotel.

“It was a little upsetting for her because she missed the elite dinner, but she was just darling, appreciative and really concentrating on, ‘I have to have a good race,’ ” said Cheryl Reitan, who works in external affairs at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Many runners coming to Grandma’s experienced similar headaches. Whether in Minneapolis, Chicago or elsewhere, weather was disrupting travel itineraries. As of midday Thursday, the Grandma’s Marathon staff knew of a handful of athletes affected by canceled flights. Most made alternative plans and were able to arrive Thursday, albeit a bit later than originally expected.

Atalelech Asfaw, one of the frontrunners for the women’s marathon, flew to Minneapolis from Albuquerque, N.M., on Thursday. Her flight to Duluth, however, was canceled. Fortunately for Asfaw, Sarah Kiptoo, the 2013 women’s marathon champ, and her agent, Scott Robinson, were on the same flight from Albuquerque. Kiptoo and Robinson already had planned to drive the 150 miles north.

Asfaw hitched a ride with them.

Two of Robinson’s runners also were delayed in Kansas City, Mo. He was hopeful Thursday afternoon that they would make it.

There was at least one weather casualty. Michel Filteau, who was entered in the wheelchair race, had his flight from Montreal to Chicago canceled Thursday. And all of today’s flights from Chicago to Duluth are overbooked, Grandma’s officials said.

While the Reitans aren’t runners, they do appreciate what Grandma’s means to Duluth. And Cheryl Reitan knows exactly who she will be cheering for this weekend — Olalde.

 “We were just delighted to be there when somebody needed some help,” Cheryl Reitan said.

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