By Thrive Editorial - Contributor

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The active parents of Olympian Carrie Tollefson

February 27, 2018

To compete on the world’s largest stage as an Olympic athlete requires extraordinary individual commitment, sacrifice and more than a little talent. Carrie Tollefson, who dominated Minnesota high school track and cross country and continued her winning ways at the NCAA level en route to the 2004 Olympics in Greece, knows firsthand what it takes.

But there’s another key to Tollefson’s success: Family.

“It was a team effort,” says the middle-distance runner, who competed for the U.S. team in the 1,500 meters. “Everyone was involved. When I made that Olympic team, it was a huge family accomplishment.”

Her parents, John and Ginger Tollefson, both 69, are inspirational athletes in their own right. The couple, both Blue Cross members, raised three daughters in the small southwest Minnesota town of Dawson before moving to Minneapolis a couple of years ago. Carrie, the youngest daughter, says her parents’ active, positive lifestyle led the way for her and her sisters, and the family is still a model of health and wellness today.

Leading by example

“My dad didn’t do anything and I saw him going downhill after he was 50, and I didn’t want to end up like that,” John says. “That was my motivation for a long time and we’ve always had fun doing things together.”

John was involved in a wide range of sports growing up and played football in college. Later in life, he took up running, which he would do outside of his work as an attorney. Ginger, who met John in high school, didn’t have the same sports options growing up. Like many women of her generation, she had to look beyond organized sports to find ways to stay active, and continued to do so throughout her life.

Long before she had Olympic aspirations, Carrie viewed her parents as role models. She recalls her mother getting walks in at 4:30 a.m. so she wouldn’t miss any time with her daughters, watching her dad run races and, later, running alongside him.

“When we went for our runs, we had some of the best conversations out there, and that was my favorite time with my dad,” Carrie says. “Just going on these country roads, and it wasn’t very long. We didn’t run for very long, but those runs lasted a long time because I learned so much about him. And he learned so much about me.”

Role reversal

John and Ginger made the decision to move to Minneapolis so they could be closer to their family, which now includes nine grandchildren between the ages of 1 and 22. Carrie and her sisters are now the ones encouraging their parents to get involved in races and other activities, but they don’t have to push hard.


Growing older might have slowed them down in some ways—John says his one mile time has slowed from 8 minutes to 10—but their lifestyle is as active as it ever was, maybe more so now that they have the diversity of amenities available in the city. Aside from running and walking, the couple now bicycles, has taken part in kickboxing and yoga, and is always game for trying something new.

Editor’s note: The full version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of thrive., a healthy living newsletter for Blue Cross Medicare members. The full issue, along with past issues, is available at  

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