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Inline skating: Superior's Cragin has skated every NorthShore Inline Marathon and isn't stopping now

Cragin, 74, shows it is never too late to find a hobby and passion you enjoy.

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Bob Cragin, wearing the black shirt with sleeves, is pictured competing with the Northern Inline Skaters Club doing the Hoyt Lakes Skate Race in 2001. Photo courtesy of Bob Cragin
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Bob Cragin of Superior remembers his sons skating around a little more than 25 years ago and telling him, “You got to get a pair of skates, dad.”

Cragin initially blew it off before he finally broke down and bought a pair, which he put in the closet because he was always too busy to use them.

“And I didn’t want to go fall on my keister all over, right in front of everybody,” Cragin added. “But then one time nobody was home, so I put them on and monkeyed around the yard. I stayed up a little bit but you get freaked out by every little pebble.”

Not long after, Cragin’s friends with the Northern Inline Skaters club asked if he wanted to come skate with them. He did, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Around that same time, Chuck Carlberg was putting together an inline marathon and approached Cragin about participating in the 1996 debut.

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“I said, ‘I can’t make it from one end to the other,’ and Chuck said, ‘Aah, anybody can make it from one end to the other,’” Cragin recalled. “But I figured I skated all summer, so I signed up for it.”

Now 25 years later, Cragin — and the NorthShore Inline Marathon — are still going strong.

Cragin, 74, is one of the more than 25 skaters who have done them all. He will be there again Saturday morning to take part in the 25th anniversary of the 26.2-mile race from Two Harbors to downtown Duluth.

Cragin and the others were honored Friday night at the DECC’s Pioneer Hall with commemorative 25-year skater jerseys.

Cragin doesn’t plan on his streak ending anytime soon.

“It is fun, so I’m going to do it as long as humanly possible,” Cragin said.

Machining and marathons

Cragin and his son, Allen, own Cragin Machine Shop in Superior, which they’ve run for about 35 years.

The older Cragin draws parallels between machining and inline marathoning, believe it or not.

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“It’s good problem solving, like what I’m doing at work,” Bob Cragin said. “If you don’t solve your problem when you’re skating, you end up part of the earth or pavement or something.”

At the shop, workers are machining and welding and trying to find solutions to problems. It’s the tinkering Bob Cragin loves, and he enjoys meeting and consulting with sharp people in their respective fields.

The Cragins do bigger jobs for contractors and those involved with mining, shipping and the paper mills, or smaller jobs for people off the street.

“The question comes up, ‘How you going to do that?’” Bob Cragin said. “Well, you have to design your way through it.”

And you’re not retired yet?

“I’m having too much fun,” Cragin said, laughing. “No, it is fun. Boy, what we do is really creative, and right now, there’s more activity than there’s ever been, so you’re forced to think (he laughed again).”

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Cragin is an avid Nordic skier and has done quite a bit of work with the local Nordic ski clubs and even manufactures trail groomers.

Again, he comes back to marathoning.

“It’s a lot of fun, that’s why I’m not retired,” Cragin said. “It’s kind of like doing the marathon. Like some people might say, ‘You can’t do that.’ But to me, it’s all about getting your mind and body going.”

Still going strong

The NorthShore Inline Marathon is so big to Bob and his family that son Aaron Cragin, of Portland, Oregon, is here this weekend to support his father.

While Aaron has done the marathon before, Allen hasn’t.

“I’ve skated with dad before, but I’m certainly not the diehard that he is,” Allen Cragin said. “It’s really great seeing him doing this. He gets so excited about it. He goes 100% in with everything he does, but this is something he really enjoys.”

Bob Cragin is that quintessential outdoorsy Northlander. In addition to skating and skiing, including downhill, he enjoys hunting and fishing and kayaking in addition to staying busy at work.

“It keeps him very young,” Allen Cragin said. “People are always shocked when they see him wearing his spandex, out on the road somewhere cruising around. He takes advantage of every minute, every day, to be outside. He’s kind of the stereotype.”

And turns out, Bob Cragin was a natural, often placing in his age group.

After completing his first NorthShore Inline Marathon in 1996, a fellow competitor came up to him, noticed his time and said that was pretty darn good.

Cragin’s reply?

Well, it was on skates.

As Cragin got better, the equipment and strategy got better, too. He has a top time of about 1 hour, 30 minutes. Keep in mind he didn’t start skating until he was 49.

Cragin’s skating adventures have taken him across the country, from Washington state to Pennsylvania down to Florida and even across the Atlantic Ocean to the Netherlands.

While Cragin might never be known as the fastest inline skater in the world, he is certainly an inspiration and a reminder that you’re never too old to try something new.

“Like a shot in the dark,” Cragin said of how this all started. “I’d probably weigh another 35 or 40 pounds if I didn’t get out there and skate a couple times a week this summer.

“It’s encouraging for anybody. Yeah, you might lose a little hide once in a while, like last weekend when I stepped onto one of those tar snakes (tar patches in the road), but it’s a good sport and a good endurance exercise.”

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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