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One family, so many marathons

With Jack Moran's decision to start running, his family history would soon run parallel to our state's history.

MINNEAPOLIS — Running wasn’t always a part of the Moran family’s history.

Jack Moran only opted to start running when looking for a way to stay fit. He soon solidified that decision after moving to Minnesota from New York and discovering people run year-round — despite the snow.

“I wouldn’t be here today without it. Everybody in my family died before 50, and here I am at 89,” Moran recently reflected, noting that his mild interest in running soon took root, resulting in him becoming interested in — and even leading — the Minnesota Distance Running Association (MDRA).

And with Moran's decision, his family history would soon run parallel to our state history.

The Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon begins

As president of the MDRA, Moran recognized a burgeoning interest in creating a marathon in the Twin Cities community. But the aerospace engineer, who taught at the University of Minnesota, also recognized a possible problem with both Minneapolis and St. Paul overseeing their own races. So Moran proposed the two cities come together to host the marathon.

“A running store in St. Paul started a marathon a week apart from our marathon [in Minneapolis]. But that was not a very good situation, so I worked it to get them together. It wasn’t a very popular idea with the people who were running these marathons,” he said, before noting: “But I won.”

Indeed, when Moran mentions he’s “the one who got it done,” he’s not kidding. What’s more, when he wasn’t able to find someone to coordinate the first-ever Twin Cities marathon in 1982, he became race director himself. A position he held for the marathon’s first five years.

“The original route, I sort of mapped out with a string on a Rand McNally map,” Moran recalled, noting he then followed the proposed route, foot by foot. “My wife was driving, and I was telling her to turn here, turn here. It was really fun.”

But Moran also remembers how the route briefly became controversial.

“It’s got to have as many miles in St. Paul as Minneapolis,” Moran said about the feedback he received from St. Paul running leaders.

He added, “So that entailed a great, big loop in St. Paul, and they had a couple years of that. [But] nobody in St. Paul could figure out how to get to church, [so] they said, ‘OK, go ahead. Go straight down Summit.'”

And while the logistics may have challenged Moran from the beginning, he also recalled the relief and joy of seeing a couple thousand runners start the race that first year.

“When they started running down the street, I cried. It was really so much work; it was hard,” he reflected.

A family affair 

But Moran was far from alone in his commitment to that marathon. His wife, Jane, laboriously entered every runner’s name and results into a computer program so newspapers could publish the results in those first years.

Meantime, Moran’s daughter, Eileen Moran Griggs, remembers other highlights, too.

“I felt like our house got taken over by this thing,” she said, then turning to her “favorite” story of those early years — when she got bumped from holding the finish line by the Pillsbury Doughboy, the mascot of the marathon’s first major sponsor.

“Maybe that’s why I didn’t start running right away,” Moran Griggs, now 58, recently recalled with a chuckle.

But just as her dad couldn’t resist the running bug, so did Moran Griggs discover the sport decades later, and after her brother-in-law introduced her to the man who’d become her husband.

“He kept saying, ‘You have to meet my sister-in-law, the nurse.’ So then when I started running with him, I went from doing 10Ks to a half marathon. And then, I think 2004 was my first marathon, and 2006 was my first Twin Cities Marathon,” she said, noting that marathons became a family affair, with siblings and grandchildren also racking up dozens of marathons themselves.

Over the years, father and daughter also managed to become elite marathoners, with Jack achieving a 2-hour, 46-minute personal record (PR); and Eileen running a 3-hour, 20-minute PR, which was fast enough to win the women’s 55 to 59 age group in in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon two years in a row.

But even amid those milestones, neither daughter nor father could have predicted the marathons still to come.

A daughter’s caregiving marathon 

In 2012, Moran Griggs and her husband, Chris Griggs — who was also a marathoner — started noticing changes.

“He [Chris] started having difficulty running. He was dragging his foot. I think that was the year he started Grandma’s [Marathon] and didn’t finish, which was very unusual for him,” Moran Griggs recently recalled from the backyard of her Minneapolis home, while sitting beside her dad.

But soon, Moran Griggs and her beloved husband learned the reason for the changes.

“We got him to a neurologist, and he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” she said.

Moran Griggs ran alongside her husband, through his years of decline and as he fought to stay active — running for as long as he could, then boxing and cycling in a group called “Pedaling for Parkinson’s.” The devoted wife, who’s also a geriatric nurse practitioner for Allina Health, even took a leave of absence to better care for the husband who always cared for her.

“He was still my biggest cheerleader. He’d still be at the finish line, start line — whenever he could be,” she remembered, noting that Chris also lovingly supported his children and grandchildren at every possibility.

“He was a character. He still had his humor to the very end,” Moran Griggs said about Chris, a Vietnam veteran who worked as a loan officer before launching a career as a realtor.

“He loved talking to people and getting to know them,” Moran Griggs said, adding, “His fighting spirit is the thing that stays with me.”

Chris Griggs ended his Parkinson’s marathon on April 13, 2023.

Jack’s caregiving marathon also begins 

Even as Eileen continued her marathon alongside her husband, Jack Moran began his caregiving marathon with his wife of 68 years, Eileen’s mother, Jane.

“She means everything,” Jack said about 89-year-old Jane, a mother of five who always managed to make others laugh.

“She always had a good sense of humor, and she still does actually, when we’re at home alone,” Jack said about his lifelong partner.

In 2020, Jane started the marathon of memory loss. But while her memories may fade, Jack knows the love between them never will.

“We still have fun. We’re still in love. And we’ll just deal with it. ‘Til death do us part,’” Moran said.

A daughter and father support each other in the most important marathon of their lives  

Today, the very father and daughter who bonded while competitively running marathons, find themselves again supporting each other in the most important marathons of their lives.

“He was there for me and was a good friend to Chris. And I try to be there for him,” Moran Griggs said about her dad, adding, “He’s a tremendous role model in running and caregiving.”

“We thank God for her,” Moran said about his daughter before adding, “She’s really a gift from heaven.”

And to that comment, Moran Griggs responded, “Likewise, likewise.”

As for their secret in enduring the marathon of caregiving, Moran Griggs suggested it’s not unlike running. The focus being: “Never giving up.”

“Tough love is what we both learned,” she said, while looking at her dad.

And to that, her dad, who’s so often charted his own course, simply agreed with his daughter: 

“I think it’s just love. If the love is there, everything else should follow.”

A final note 

On Sunday, Oct. 1, Moran Griggs is running her 34th marathon, the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, in honor of her husband. She said she’ll “picture” Chris “along the way.”

As for Jack, he’s content with the 30 marathons already under his belt, but he and his beloved wife will be at the very marathon he founded to cheer their daughter on to the finish line.

To learn more about the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, simply click here.


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