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Grandma's Marathon: Chettle and Long capture William A. Irvin 5K titles

Men’s winner overcomes brain tumor and age to be his best.

People running road race summer night
Top runners leave the starting line behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center during the William A. Irvin 5K on Friday, June, 17, 2022, in Duluth. Men’s winner Jesse Chettle is pictured in the front at the very left.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Distance runner Jesse Chettle set a personal record in May 2010 by covering five kilometers in a blistering 14 minutes, 37 seconds, but not long after, he couldn’t even break 16 minutes anymore.

Chettle went to the doctor over and over and over again but nobody could figure out what was wrong with him. Everything looked good. All his tests said he was perfectly healthy.

Four years after that personal record Chettle was home in Kansas City and found out what was wrong the hard way.

“I was getting ready to go pick up my packet to run a local 5K and the next thing I knew I woke up in the hospital,” Chettle said. “My brother had come home and saw me sitting on the coach and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m super tired.’ Then the next thing you know I was having a seizure.”

Chettle had brain surgery two months later to remove a golf-ball sized tumor in his right frontal lobe.

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Fast forward to Friday, almost eight years to the day of his seizure, and Chettle won the men’s 29th William A. Irvin 5K, the annual kickoff to Grandma’s Marathon race weekend.

Chettle covered the 3.1-mile course around Canal Park in 14:52, though times are unofficial pending a review because of “an error by course officials that may have resulted in a slightly shortened race,” according to Grandma’s.

“We kind of took a wrong turn, so we kind of stopped and then kept running again,” said Mason Shea, the defending men’s champion from River Falls, Wisconsin.

The 38-year-old Chettle used a late surge to get past the 20-year-old Shea as the two men dueled down the homestretch in Bayfront Festival Park.

“I’m really happy about it,” Chettle said. “My friend (Brian Batliner) is running the marathon Saturday. He was supposed to come up with somebody else but it didn’t work so I was like, ‘You can’t come up alone. I’m going to go with you and it’s going to be super fun and I’m going to run the 5K that Friday night.’”

And win it.

Nikki Long of Raleigh, North Carolina, rocking the goodr-brand sunglasses on a sunny, 80-degree day, led from start to finish in cruising to victory in the women’s race in 16:15, with Lindsey Zimmer of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, second in 17:10.

Long, 31, attended Grandma’s Marathon as a spectator in 2019. She was here this time with four of her Raleigh Distance Project teammates who are doing the half marathon Saturday.

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“I told my teammates, ‘I’ve been there and people run well,’” Long said. “It was a great experience, just the hospitality and how easy it is on race morning. It’s just really well orchestrated.”

A record 2,680 people were registered for this year’s William A. Irvin 5K, and a record 2,016 of those participants officially finished the race.

Ben Haberman, of Golden Valley, Minnesota, was third in the men’s race in 15:14 and led the first half of the race when Chettle was way back in eighth. But coming back with the wind and a slight downhill, Chettle fired up the afterburners.

“He came out of nowhere and just stormed ahead,” Shea said. “I brought him back in and right by the Irvin (ore boat) made a move with about a half mile to go. I knew it was going to be kind of gutsy — I mean, the guy is wearing a Kansas City Smoke jersey — he’s on a track club — I could tell he meant business, so I just kept telling myself, ‘Make it hurt, make it hurt.’”

People running road race summer night
Jesse Chettle maintains a lead at the finish line of the William A. Irvin 5K on Friday, June, 17, 2022, at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. Chettle is the top men’s finisher.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Both runners sure made it hurt, much to the crowd’s delight as they sprinted to the finish line, their faces contorting in ways not thought humanly possible.

Chettle lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, but still spends large chunks of time back home in Kansas City. He enjoys these moments now more than ever.

“What happened to me makes you appreciate life and being healthy more,” Chettle said. “You definitely don’t take time for granted.”

Turns out, that seizure may have been a blessing after all.

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“We were searching and searching, so it was good to get the answer why,” he said.

People running road race summer night
Nikki Long pushes towards the finish line of the William A. Irvin 5K on Friday, June, 17, 2022, at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. Long is the top women’s finisher.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

And nobody could be prouder than his old college buddy Batliner.

“It’s unbelievable for him to bounce back from a brain tumor the way he has,” Batliner said. “We’re already fighting age as it is, but just last week he ran a 4:20 mile and was, “I think I can go faster.’ He amazes me.”

Not bad for a weekend trip where Chettle was simply filling in. Hey, Duluth might not be Hollywood, but given what Chettle has been through, this one definitely completed the script.

“Now he’s famous,” Batliner said, drawing a laugh.

People running road race summer night
Nikki Long raises her arms in celebration at the finish line of the William A. Irvin 5K on Friday, June, 17, 2022, at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. Long is the top women’s finisher.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
People running road race summer night
Runners pause for the playing of the National Anthem at the start of the William A. Irvin 5K on Friday, June, 17, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

46TH ANNUAL GRANDMA'S MARATHON
More coverage of the 2022 Grandma's Marathon weekend in Duluth:
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.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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