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Local firefighters run Blue Ox 5K in support of Walter Lindahl

When the Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon weekend kicked off Friday evening, runners could be seen sporting their typical activewear to race along Lake Bemidji. But a distinctive pair stood out amongst the many tennis shoes and moisture-wicking polyester of the runners. Clad in full firefighter uniform and gear was Bemidji firefighter Kelly McDonald and Lakeport firefighter Elias Carlson, who ran the 5K race in support of Bemidji firefighter Walter Lindahl, who is in need of a double lung transplant.

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Lakeport firefighter Elias Carlson, left, and Bemidji firefighter Kelly McDonald run along Lake Bemidji on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in the Blue Ox 5K. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- When the Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon weekend kicked off Friday evening, runners could be seen sporting their typical activewear to race along Lake Bemidji. But a distinctive pair stood out amongst the many tennis shoes and moisture-wicking polyester of the runners.

Clad in full firefighter uniform and gear were Bemidji firefighter Kelly McDonald and Lakeport firefighter Elias Carlson, who ran the 5K race in support of Bemidji firefighter Walter Lindahl , who is in need of a double lung transplant. The gear, which is required for firefighters to enter and fight a structure fire, weighed in at 45 pounds.

Following 12 years as an on-call firefighter, Lindahl was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis on April 29 of this year. This condition results from damaged lung tissue that can make it difficult for the lungs to work properly.

Since this diagnosis, Lindahl has not been able to work alongside his department and is in the process of seeking funds for a double lung transplant.

The total cost of the transplant once Lindahl is eligible to be placed on a transplant list is expected to be upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. This also follows a three-day hospital day in Fargo costing around $40,000.

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“Many people I’ve talked to keep saying that (Lindahl) is the person who’d give his shirt off of his back to help others,” Carlson said. “Between his impact on the community and his fire service, it was important to do this to show that we take care of our own.”

Having had previous interactions with Lindahl, meeting him through Lindahl’s nephew Zach Cobenias and fishing together on a couple of occasions, Carlson decided to set up the GoFundMe page, “Full Turnout 5K for Walt Lindahl” after learning he is “a brother of the fire service.”

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Lakeport firefighter Elias Carlson, left, and Bemidji firefighter Kelly McDonald, pause to take a selfie on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in the Blue Ox 5K along Lake Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

“It’s really about helping to support him and his family,” Carlson said. “I hope it inspires people to become more active in the community when somebody is in need of strength. That’s the brotherhood of the fire department.”

The fundraiser’s goal of $1,000 was nearly met at $900 by Friday morning prior to the 5K opening at 3 p.m. at the Sanford Center.

Carlson also drew inspiration from Lakeport Fire and Rescue’s annual 5K fundraising event in July , for which himself, firefighters Justin Lindahl, Kasey Kampfer and Ben Eckstein ran in full turnout gear as well.

Eckstein set up a GoFundMe page for Lakeport’s 5K with $2,050 of the $1,000 goal being split between the Lakeport Fire Department and Emergency Medical Responders.

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With the goal of supporting Lindahl in mind, Carlson and McDonald both hope to extend a helping hand to someone who has been there for the Bemidji community for so many years.

“I just hope this encourages people to help others in need,” Carlson said. “This shows that Lakeport Fire and Rescue has the Bemidji Fire Department’s back and vice versa.”

Those interested in assisting with Walter Lindahl’s medical expenses can also make cash donations at Riverwood Bank under the account name “Walter Lindahl’s Benefit.”

Here's a look at Saturday's race schedule:

Shuttles will leave from the Sanford Center between 7:45 and 8:45 a.m. for the half marathon start. Shuttles will leave at about 7:45, 8:15 and 8:45 a.m., or when full. Participants who miss the 8:45 a.m. shuttles are responsible for getting themselves to the starting line. Runners may also be dropped off at the half marathon start, but parking will not be allowed.

Half Marathon

  • Participants can start any time between 8 and 9 a.m.
  • Location: Paul Bunyan Trail, three miles north of the Sanford Center.

  • Course closes at 2 p.m.

Full Marathon

  • Start time: 8 a.m.
  • Course closes at 2 p.m.

26K Lake Loop

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  • Participants can start any time between 8 and 9 a.m.
  • Course closes at 2 p.m.

Overall and age group awards will be available at the Sanford Center throughout the weekend. For information regarding water and aid station changes due to COVID-19, visit www.bemidjiblueoxmarathon.com .

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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