Back on the path to recovery

A fire in November left him, his brother and father burned only to have surgery months later to remove a rib to alleviate a blood clot. Now he’s preparing to hit the track one more time at St. Francis

Six months ago St. Francis senior Grant Olsen was coming off a trip to the state cross country meet, looking forward to an off-season of training before one more spring track season.

He also took a summer track trip to Australia where he earned gold and bronze medals at the ‘DownUnder’ Games.

Olsen and his older brother Elliot, a senior at St. John’s in Collegeville, decided the summer of 2013 would be a good time for them to both run their first marathon – Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth in June.

St. Francis senior Grant Olsen, left, hopes to return to the track early in May after surviving a flash chemical explosion with his father and brother in November before having surgery in February to remove part of a rib to alleviate a blood clot.
St. Francis senior Grant Olsen, left, hopes to return to the track early in May after surviving a flash chemical explosion with his father and brother in November before having surgery in February to remove part of a rib to alleviate a blood clot.Photo by Bill Jones

But life took an unexpected turn in November, then again in February.

According to his mother, Vikki, Grant was helping his father Phil and older brother Elliot clean out his grandmother’s East Bethel home the day before Thanksgiving Day when a flash chemical fire quickly engulfed the flooring and area they were working on.

All three were burnt by the fire and Grant was the first to reach safety. Elliot was close behind Grant but turned around to see their father tripped on his way out of the area. Elliot who weighs 200 pounds picked up their 280-pound father and carried him to safety.

“Elliot slapped the fire out [on his burning clothing], took him upstairs and out,” Grant explained. “The fire chief said we shouldn’t have survived.”

The firefighters were able to contain the fire that was caused by the chemicals used to the stairway and lower level of the house on Highway 65 near Cooper’s Corner.

Grant and Elliot escaped with second degree burns on their hands while Phil received third degree burns on 20-percent of his body and was hospitalized for three months.

Phil’s injuries were so severe that his heart stopped briefly and he spent two weeks on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

“The rest of the family is handling it well,” Grant said. “It was hard for my mom to see my dad on the respirator but it changed our perspective on things and how precious our family is.

“Beyond our nuclear family too, just how helpful they’ve been to us. I just remember getting bags of things from the [St. Francis] track family.”

Grant said he was in a lot of pain for a full week after the fire. Once he began working out outside, his burns hurt the most with temperature changes.

After a difficult recovery, Grant completed a training run and cross country ski workout with the Saints track team when he noticed one arm was much larger than the other.

He noticed a pain in his shoulder for two-three days before visiting a doctor. “I thought it was really tight but I noticed my right arm was bigger than my left and it felt like a bug bite and really heavy,” Grant said.

After a trip to the emergency room, a blot clot known as a deep vein thrombosis was discovered and he was rushed to the Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center for further treatment where he was diagnosed with Paget Von Schrotter syndrome. He needed to have part of his upper rib removed to insert a stint into the vein to prevent a future clot.

He was hospitalized for one week after the surgery and said it hurt just to try and walk around,

He was hoping to wear the blue Saints shirt in the season-opening meet at Monticello, but is still recovering from the surgery.

Grant hopes to return to competition ahead of the section meet at Princeton May 26-28. He was two seconds off the section-winning time in the 800-meter dash last spring and would like  to be as close to that time as possible.

“Grant is a determined student-athlete,” Saints cross country and track coach Andy Forbort said. “I was really excited for his spring season after such a successful cross country season. I hope he can get back competing soon.”

Things fore Grant are different now.

“Everything really changed my perspective to put family No. 1,” he said.

He knows the odds are against him break through to the state meet but that doesn’t deter his drive. “It’s a challenge for me to train and be motivated every day,” he said.

After the state season is completed, he hopes to finishethe Grandma’s Marathon in around three hours, 20 minutes.

Grant said Elliot’s plan is to make it the entire distance.

The two planned the run as a send off before Elliot leaves for graduate school at North Dakota’s University of Jamestown for a doctor of physical therapy degree.

“I’ve gone 20 miles in a workout once and that was pretty brutal but by June I’m sure I will be able to do six more miles,” Grant said.

Jason Olson is at
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