Acclaimed northeastern Minn. runner pleads guilty to drunken driving

Garry Bjorklund, the namesake of the Grandma's Marathon half marathon, had a blood-alcohol level more than three times over the legal limit after a wrong-way collision

Garry Bjorklund
Garry Bjorklund stands in the finish area in Canal Park in Duluth during Grandma's Marathon on June 18, 2022.
Dan Williamson / File / Duluth News Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — One of northeastern Minnesota’s most famous and accomplished runners, 71-year-old Garry Bjorklund, was convicted for gross misdemeanor driving while intoxicated Wednesday and was placed on probation for three years, following a crash that involved him driving the wrong way into oncoming traffic.

According to a criminal complaint, police were called to an Eden Prairie collision at about 6 p.m. Aug. 8. There, officers found a Ford facing west in an eastbound lane of traffic. The report said Bjorklund was standing with his hands on the hood of the vehicle, which had collided with a Tesla on the scene.

Garry Bjorklund won the inaugural Grandma's Marathon in 1977, and won the race again in 1980. The Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon is named in his honor.

When he was asked to step away from the vehicle, Bjorklund reportedly lost his balance and fell, while maintaining that he was "not drunk."

When officers asked Bjorklund if he knew what date it was, he said he believed it was the 8th of October or November.

Bjorklund submitted to a breath test that indicated a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.26%, and he was placed under arrest.


Officers found an open bottle of Bacardi rum on the floor of the front passenger seat of Bjorklund's Ford, the criminal complaint said.

On Wednesday, Bjorklund pleaded guilty to gross-misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and was ordered to abstain from any consumption of alcohol or controlled substances, with the exception of prescribed medications, for three years, during which time he will remain on monitored probation. He was also ordered to perform five days of service through a Sentence to Service program.

Bjorklund earned early acclaim, setting a high school state record by running a mile in just over 4 minutes, 5 seconds as a member of the Proctor track team. He went on to run for the University of Minnesota and competed in the 1976 Summer Olympics, where he placed 13th in the 10,000-meter race.

The following year, Bjorklund began competing in marathons, placing in a number of prominent races and turning in his fastest time ever at the 1980 Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, finishing the race in just over 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Grandma's Marathon named its half-marathon event in Bjorklund's honor.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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