A trio of top contenders to win wheelchair division titles at the 45th running of Grandma’s Marathon will miss this weekend’s race after being denied entry into the United States.

Rafael Botello Jimenez of Spain and Patrick Monahan of Ireland both will be unable to participate in the men’s race Saturday while Vanessa Cristina de Souza of Brazil is out of the women’s race.

The absence of de Souza, who was set to make her Grandma’s debut after winning the 2020 Zurich Seville Marathon, leaves 48-year-old Ivonne Reyes as the lone female wheelchair racer in this year’s field.

The 2020 U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials were rescheduled for this weekend in Minneapolis, and that is preventing a number of American racers from taking part in Grandma’s this year. Among those who had to pull out because of the scheduling conflict was Jenna Fesemyer of Champaign, Illinois. She finished fourth at Grandma’s in 2019 with a personal best of 1 hour, 37 minutes and 2 seconds.

Like Fesemyer, Monahan is a Paralympic hopeful who had targeted Grandma’s Marathon as a key race leading up to the rescheduled 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. He finished second at Grandma’s in 2019 with a time of 1:22:23. That time was the second fastest ever for men’s wheelchair racers at Grandma’s.

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“I just want to race, the competition,” Monahan, a 2016 Paralympian in Rio, told the News Tribune last week. “I’m probably going to regret saying this, but for once I can say I don’t mind if it rains. I don’t need a fast time.”

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Botello Jimenez has raced in 11 Grandma’s Marathons, winning his debut in 2007. He’s finished as runner up four times since and was fourth in 2019 in 1:27:52.

Two other men’s wheelchair racers have pulled out due to injury — Jose Pulido and Krige Schabort, both of the United States.

Mo’ath Alkhawaldeh of Jordan and Nick Golebiowski have also both withdrawn from the men’s elite field due to injury while Americans Kristen Schafer (injury) and Heather Lieberg (family emergency) have also pulled out from the women’s elite field.

Book documents Grandma’s rise

Grandma’s Marathon founder and former executive director Scott Keenan has published a book titled, “My Journey to Grandma’s Marathon: History and Heroes.” The book features the people involved with taking Grandma’s from a 150-person race in 1977 to the grand spectacle that it is today.

Keenan’s book features early champions such as Garry Bjorklund and Dick Beardsley, as well as former News Tribune sportswriter and longtime Grandma’s Marathon reporter Kevin Pates.

“We had to do something special back then. We had to invite the world to Grandma’s Marathon, and we did,” Keenan said during an episode of the Gearing Up for Grandma’s Podcast. “We had the great race course, the great location, we just needed the organization to put on a good race. It was very important to me to try and take running to a new level in the Duluth area, and I’m so proud of what’s been built with Grandma’s Marathon.”

Longtime Keenan assistant honored

Keenan’s right-hand man for the first Grandma’s in 1977, Brian Larsen, will be receiving the award that bears his former boss's name — the Scott A. Keenan Founder’s Award.

Larsen was the assistant race director for the inaugural Grandma’s and continued to serve as Keenan’s confidant throughout the years, doing everything from planning and preparation to helping with race packet pick up.

Larsen was a member of the North Shore Striders and was inducted into the Grandma’s Marathon Hall of Fame in 2001.

“Thanks for including me in your crazy dream,” said Larsen, who now lives in Grand Marais and works as publisher of the Cook County News, “to start a marathon in Duluth.”

In addition to Larsen, Grandma’s Marathon is recognizing the Keiper Family with the Don Fennessy Volunteer of the Year Award. Darrin and Michelle Keiper, and their two kids, Hallie and Cole, have volunteered with the race for 25-plus years with race packet pickup.

Mike Korpi of Soudan, Minnesota, and Larry McNichols of Morris, Minnesota, are also being inducted into Grandma’s 1,000-Miler Club this year as the ninth and 10th members. Both are running their 42nd Grandma’s Marathon, with Korpi running his first in 1980 and McNichols in 1979.