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Grandma's Marathon: Wheelchair racers, half marathon runners to watch in 2022

COVID-19 kept wheelchair racers away from Grandma's Marathon in 2021, and there was no elite field for the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in 2021, either. Both races are back to full strength in 2022, with some top contenders in each.

2019 Grandma's Marathon Wheelchair Men's winner
Aaron Pike of Savoy, Ill., pushes his wheelchair to the Grandma's Marathon finish line in Canal Park in Duluth in 2019. Pike won his third consecutive race in 2019 and did so in a course record of 1:20:59.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A year after featuring reduced fields due to COVID-19 restrictions — along with visa issues for international racers — the Grandma’s Marathon wheelchair race and Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon are back to full strength in 2022.

The wheelchair division of Grandma’s Marathon is especially loaded with the men’s and women’s event record holders back again. Aaron Pike and Susannah Scaroni are both seeking their fourth Grandma’s Marathon title.

There are 32 men’s wheelchair racers and nine women’s wheelchair racers registered for this year’s marathon after only 15 — including just one woman, Mexico’s Ivonne Reyes — finished a year ago. In addition to visa problems, the U.S. Paralympic Trials in track and field in Minneapolis were rescheduled to the same weekend as Grandma's.

Wheelchair racers take off from the start line at 7:35 a.m. on Saturday.

The Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, which did not feature an elite field a year ago, has 62 elite male runners signed up and 50 elite women. The half marathon gets underway at 6 a.m.

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Here are the this year’s top contenders for the wheelchair marathon and half marathon.

Top men’s wheelchair marathon racers

The Legend

Aaron Pike, 35, United States
Personal best: 1:20:59 (2019 Grandma’s Marathon)

Pike is not only a three-time champion (2017-2019), but he’s also the event record holder thanks to a personal-best time of 1:20:59 in 2019 on the Michigan Street course. He beat the previous record, set by Josh George on the Superior Street course in 2012, by almost two minutes. Pike was second in the 2022 Boston Marathon (1:32:49) after posting three top-five finishes in 2021 at the London, Chicago and Boston marathons. At the 2021 Paralympics in Tokyo, he finished sixth in 1:29:45.

46TH GRANDMA'S MARATHON
More coverage of the 2022 Grandma's Marathon weekend:
From the column: "I started crying. Instead of seeing these racers as strangers, I felt the way I would feel watching my own children starting the race."
What is it about Grandma’s that we find so inspiring?
A look back at Grandma's Marathon on Saturday from the viewpoint of an "official unofficial" spectator.
Minnesota runner, faster than ever, enjoys ‘best day ever.’
News Tribune photographers capture scenes from various areas of the race course.
A reduced field in 2021 due to COVID-19 led to fewer spectators along the course. Sold out races in 2022 brought people back to cheer on the runners and racers.
Fans with costumes and signs cheer on runners along Duluth's London Road.
In his first completed marathon since a 2019 injury, the Grandma’s marathon course record holder returned for a win and the second-best race time in the event’s history.
Aaron Pike and Susannah Scaroni broke their own course records, with Pike fighting off a challenger at the finish line.
While the men's winner took a commanding lead early, the women's winner had to fight her way back up to the front.

The Defending Champ

Johnboy Smith, 32, Great Britain
PR: 1:25:45 (2021 Grandma’s Marathon)

Smith made his debut a year ago at Grandma’s and not only won the race, but posted a personal best of 1:25:45. He finished third in the 2022 Boston Marathon this spring with a time of 1:32:55 and was 10th at the 2021 Paralympics in 1:32:25. Tokyo was one of seven top-10 finishes he recorded in 2021 racing in New York, Boston, Berlin, Chicago and London.

062021.s.dnt.GrandmasLRB4.jpg
Johnboy Smith, of Great Britain, gets encouragement from spectators on the Lester River Bridge on London Road on his way to winning the 2021 Grandma's Marathon wheelchair race on Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Duluth.
Jed Carlson / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Contender

Patrick Monahan, 35, Ireland
PR: 1:22:23 (2019 Grandma’s Marathon)

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Monahan was one of the international racers who couldn’t make it to Duluth a year ago because of visa issues. He owns the second-fastest time ever laid down by a wheelchair racer at Grandma’s, posting a personal best of 1:22:23 in 2019 when Pike set the current record. He had to settle for second. Monahan is a two-time Paralympian who finished 12th in Tokyo in 2021 in 1:32:54.

062319.S.DNT.GMAS.C41.jpg
Patrick Monahan (right) chases Aaron Pike near the 22-mile point of Grandma’s Marathon on June 22, 2019. Monahan finished second to Pike in 2019.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Top women’s wheelchair marathon racers

The Record Holder

Susannah Scaroni, 30, United States
PR: 1:30:42 (2019 Grandma’s Marathon)

Scaroni won her first Grandma’s Marathon in 2014 and then went back-to-back in 2018 and 2019, with her 2019 time being a new Grandma’s event record. Scaroni finished second in the Boston Marathon this spring in 1:46:20. She was sixth at the 2021 Paralympics in Tokyo in 1:41:04. In seven appearances at Grandma’s, Scaroni has six top-two appearances. She missed out on a title in 2017 by less than a second.

2019 Grandma's Marathon Women's Wheelchair winner
Susannah Scaroni of Urbana, Ill., pushes her wheelchair in 2019 to the Grandma's Marathon finish line in Canal Park in Duluth. Scaroni won in a time of 1:30:42.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Challenger

Jenna Fesemyer, 25, United States
PR: 1:37:02 (2019 Grandma’s Marathon)

Fesemyer made her Grandma’s Marathon debut three years ago and finished fourth in 1:37:02. Since then she’s posted third-place finishes in London and Chicago, was fourth in New York in 2021 and fifth in Boston in 2022 with a time of 1:55:59.

Top men’s half marathon racers

The Olympian

Luis Orta, 33, United States
PR: 1:03:09 (2018 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships)

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Orta has run the Garry Bjorklund just once, finishing 13th in 2015. He went on to compete in the 2016 Olympics in the full marathon. He’s finished in the top four of the last three half marathons he’s run, posting a time of 1:07:07 in 2022 in New York City.

The Veteran

Joe Moore, 38, United States
PR: 1:03:22 (2019 Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon)

Moore, of Minneapolis, has raced the Bjorklund four times before, with a third-place showing in 2019 being his best finish yet in Duluth. He’s also run Grandma’s Marathon twice — in addition to the Park Point 5-Miler and Fitger's 5K — giving him plenty of familiarity with the course.

Joe Moore
Joe Moore of Minneapolis approaches the finish line of the 2017 Park Point Five-Miler road race in Duluth. Moore was the top finisher that year.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Hot Hand

Daniel Kemboi, 35, Kenya
PR: 1:02:27 (2018 Berkane Half Marathon)

The 2022 calendar year has been good to Kemboi, who has already won two half marathons this year in Austin and Fort Worth, Texas. His best time this year came in Houston, where he finished 21st but posted a time of 1:03:47. Kemboi is making his debut in Duluth.

Top women’s half marathon racers

The Veteran

Kelsey Bruce, 29, United States
PR: 1:12:16 (2020 Houston Half Marathon)

Many of the top female runners in the Bjorklund are making their debut this year. Bruce is not one of those runners. She finished fifth in 2019 in 1:13:31. Recent results for Bruce include a victory in Dallas in 2021 (1:14:35) and 23rd in Houston in 2022 (1:13:58).

The Newcomer

Rachel Baptista, 29, Venezuela
PR: 1:12:39 (2018 Waco Half Marathon)

Baptista isn’t just new to the Bjorklund, she’s new to half marathons. The Bjorklund will be Baptista’s fourth career half marathon. She’s finished in the top three of her first three, winning in Dallas in 2018. Her most recent is the 2022 Woodlands Half Marathon, where she took third in 1:17:10.

On the rise

Rosie Edwards, 33, United Kingdom
PR: 1:12:24 (2021 Las Vegas Half Marathon)

Edwards, another first-timer in Duluth, set her PR a year ago when she finished fourth in the 2021 Las Vegas Marathon. She won the Indianapolis Half Marathon in 1:13:28 in 2020 and was second in the Mesa Half Marathon in 1:14:13 in 2019.

Related Topics: GRANDMA'S MARATHON
Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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