Published on June 17, 2022

Longtime Grandma’s medical director ‘passing the torch’ to Essentia colleague

They are among the last folks you want to encounter at a marathon, and yet they are vital to any endurance event’s safety and success. “They” are the medical directors, and Grandma’s Marathon is preparing to have a new person in that role for the first time since the late 2000s.

Dr. Ben Nelson, Grandma’s medical director since 2010, will step aside following the 46th annual edition of Minnesota’s oldest marathon. He will serve as co-medical director with one of his Essentia Health colleagues, Dr. Kathryn McLellan, this weekend before officially passing the torch.

“Providing the medical care for 18,000 people pushing themselves to their limit over an entire day and 26 miles is a massive undertaking,” said Dr. Nelson, who was co-medical director in 2009 with his predecessor, Dr. Steve Harrington, before taking over full-time in 2010. “It requires a large and dedicated group working together. Being part of this team, and the bonds that form working together under pressure and doing our best for our runners and race, is what has been most rewarding.”

Dr. McLellan is an orthopedic and sports medicine physician at Essentia. She worked in the medical tent at Grandma’s a year ago as a way to familiarize herself with the event. Grandma’s has benefited from near-ideal running conditions in recent years. When the opposite is true, and heat and humidity pervade the course, the medical tent can be a strenuous environment teeming with depleted runners.

Dr. McLellan is ready for the challenge. She says working alongside Dr. Nelson as co-director will allow for a seamless transition.

“Grandma’s is such an integral part of this community,” she said. “Being new to the area and to the sports medicine scene here, I wanted a way to work more closely with the athletes and the organizations supporting them.”

Dr. Nelson says Dr. McLellan will “excel in this role.”

“I have no doubt that I’m leaving the position in brilliant, thorough, friendly hands,” he said.

Essentia Health features a comprehensive orthopedic and sports medicine program. Through expert, compassionate care for bones, joints and muscles, we focus on helping our patients stay active and engaged in the activities they love.

Essentia again heavily involved in Grandma’s

Like past years, Grandma’s Marathon will feature a robust contingent of Essentia volunteers.

Joining Drs. Nelson and McLellan in providing care on race day will be 25 physicians and advanced practitioners, as well as 18 athletic trainers. Three physical therapists were ready to staff the aptly named Essentia Health Fitness Expo at the DECC’s Pioneer Hall and Arena.

These numbers don’t include the countless folks from Essentia who are volunteering in other capacities, such as passing out water along the course or medals at the finish line. This event, one of the largest marathons in the country, showcases the community’s spirit and is a wonderful opportunity for Essentia to exemplify its mission of making a healthy difference in people’s lives.

For the first time since 2016, Grandma’s Marathon and the accompanying Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon and William A. Irvin 5K all sold out, bringing more than 20,000 runners to the North Shore.

Good luck, runners!