McElroy family Grand Traverse tradition continues

Four family teams signed up this year

By Than Acuff 

A variety of local McElroy family members have jumped into the Grand Traverse race 21 times since the event’s inception, and this year’s event will feature the most McElroys ever—four teams in the Montane Grand Traverse will be comprised of a McElroy or two when they head into the midnight air on Saturday, April 1.

Dan McElroy, the patriarch of the family, came to the valley as a student at Western in 1964, married his wife Janice in 1967, and has been in the valley ever since. The first Grand Traverse race was in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2001 when Dan gave it a go.

“The tradition started in 2001 with my second son Matt who coaxed me into attempting it,” says Dan. “I had a few conversations with guys like Jerry Deverell, Brian Dale and Rick Borkovec who did some of the first ones. It piqued my interest, but I still thought it was sort of a hair-brained idea. One of the motivations was the training that it involved that I thought would be fun to share that time with my son.”

Dan says when he finished that first one, there was not much thought of doing another, let alone another six.

“Frankly, after the first finish I thought I would cross it off the list and that would be the end of it,” admits Dan. “Then, my oldest son Joe was a little disappointed that I didn’t do it with him and that sort of started a chain reaction. I was always motivated by my kids with their, ‘Dad, I’m sure you have one more of these in you’…and so it went.”

Dan shared the experience with all but one of his five kids, including racing twice with daughter Tisha and son Christopher. Dan then wrapped up his personal Grand Traverse tradition when he teamed up with his oldest grandson, Daniel McElroy, in 2017.

“He [grandson Daniel] grew up in Alaska but was attending Franciscan University at the time, not much on-the-snow training in Ohio,” says Dan. “I was 72 and he was 21.”

With seven under his belt, all on Nordic gear, not one race in particular stands out. Instead, Dan appreciates the work involved to prepare for the race and the time spent training and racing with his kids and grandkid.

“They were all good. I enjoyed the training almost more than the race,” says Dan. “The best one when everything went well and conditions were the best was when I did it for the first of two times with my son Christopher. We recorded the best time of all the events and would have had a better time if John Norton had not engaged us in a lengthy conversation at the top of Ajax.”

But the tradition didn’t end there. The McElroys continued to race in the Grand Traverse, including this year with two of Dan’s sons on one team, a son and his wife on another team, his daughter and her husband lining up, and two of his grandsons teaming up. As for who out of the family will cross first, it all depends, as anything can happen on the course in the middle of the night.

“They have all been training hard,” says Dan. “My two older sons are doing it on Nordic gear, but they are super good skiers. I really think it is a tossup, depending on how the equipment works, conditions and all the other curveballs the GT tends to throw in your path.”

Given the time spent with his family training, talking and racing, Dan offers some advice for any other family teams headed out this Saturday at midnight.

“Have fun and enjoy the ride, painful as it will be,” says Dan. “My experiences with the GT have allowed me to have an experience with my kids that otherwise would not have been possible, not to mention the bench racing and storytelling that will hopefully survive a few generations. The GT has been so much more for me than a midnight trek into the wilds, it has been one of the highlights of my family life and I will treasure it always!”

This year will be included in those tall tales and memories as Dan watches what he started back in 2001 continue with the next two generations of McElroys.

“It’s a very special event this year, inspired by Sam McElroy who wanted to do the event with his brother, and it sort of spiraled from there,” says Dan. “This year I will be standing at the finish line watching four family teams.”

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