Northland race a fitting family tributeHaley Bengtson started running with her grandfather, Eugene Curnow, after he had suffered a heart attack on Superior Street while competing in the 2011 Minnesota Mile.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Haley Bengtson started running with her grandfather, Eugene Curnow, after he had suffered a heart attack on Superior Street while competing in the 2011 Minnesota Mile.
Those rehabilitation runs turned into training for last fall’s Twin Cities Marathon. Curnow, a veteran of more than 200 marathons and ultramarathons, had felt ill prior to that race yet delayed tests for cancer until the pair could attempt their quest.
“He said, ‘I don’t know who else will run with you, so I will put off (getting tested) until (after the race),’ ” Haley recalled.
They made it 18 of the 26.2 miles before stopping. Shortly afterward, Curnow was diagnosed with lung cancer and died March 28 at the age of 68.
This Saturday, 21-year-old Haley Bengtson and several family members will be out on the trails her grandfather prepared as part of the Half-Voyageur Trail Marathon. The 26.6-mile race over woodland trails from Spirit Mountain to Carlton, which Curnow began as a training run for the 50-mile Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon, has been renamed in his honor.
“That is a fitting tribute because he created that race,” said his daughter, Barb Bengtson, who also plans to run the race for the first time.
As always, the race will be a family affair: Barb Curnow, Eugene’s widow, and their oldest son, Bill, and his sons, Billy and Cullen, will work the aid stations as will Barb Bengtson’s son, Will, and her husband’s relatives; Steven Bengtson and Bill Curnow’s wife, Louise, are considering entering the race.
“Since my father’s departure, we wanted to have one more year to give it a farewell from the family,” said Barb Bengtson, who lives in Isanti, Minn., but is building a retirement home in Duluth. “We’ll probably mix in a lot of walking with our running.”
The Curnow family has played a big role in the trail races as far back as anyone can remember. Barb Curnow took over administering the Voyageur from her husband in 1991, and he started up the accompanying race the following year. That was just one of the many events the Duluth Central graduate volunteered for during the last quarter-century.
“There wasn’t anyone who worked any harder for our running community than Gene,” Duluthian Jarrow Wahman told the News Tribune earlier this year. “He was always going, going, going in helping to put on races, and preparing trail race courses, and racing in events himself. And he enjoyed every minute of his connection with runners. He put in thousands of hours and was always smiling.”
Haley Bengtson attended her first Voyageur at six weeks old as her mother volunteered at the finish line and has been around the event ever since.
“He brought out in her that love of trail running,” Barb Bengtson said.
Gene Curnow served as race director for 20 years before requiring CPR and a defibrillator at the finish line of the Minnesota Mile. He subsequently needed quadruple bypass surgery, but finished the same race a year later with his granddaughter.
“He really wanted to do Twin Cities again, so they trained for it,” his wife of 50 years said. “But the lung cancer was getting to be too much for him, so he didn’t train as much as he would have liked.”
Haley Bengtson, who said she grew closer to her grandfather through all their training runs, plans to complete the Twin Cities Marathon this fall in his honor.
“It’s not the same course as it was but at least we’re able to get to Carlton,” Glesener said. “Next year, hopefully, we will be able to get back to the original course.”
The cost of the event is $55, but it’s only $10 if runners volunteer to work the Voyageur on July 27.