Nursing Prof. Gina Kelly featured in Forum story

Fargo Marathon runner goes from volunteer to contender in one year

Heath Hotzler, The Forum

Gina Aalgaard Kelly’s transformation from recreational runner to elite competitor began at the finish line of last year’s Fargo Marathon. And she wasn’t even running in the event.

Working as a volunteer, Aalgaard Kelly struck up a conversation with accomplished running coach and author Gerard Pearlberg. He suggested with a structured training program the 33-year-old rural Lisbon, N.D., resident could accomplish big things.

Pearlberg was right.

Aalgaard Kelly won the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando, Fla., last month with a time of 1 hour, 23.58 minutes. She beat more than 10,000 competitors for the title.

“I was one of those people who just enjoyed running,” said Aalgaard Kelly, a former NDSU track and field athlete from Bemidji, Minn. “Now it’s become a much more integrated part of my life. It’s my mental health.”

The wife of Ransom County State’s Attorney Fallon Kelly and the mother of three children, Aalgaard Kelly had limited experience with marathons and half marathons before her meeting with Pearlberg.

She qualified for the 2009 Boston Marathon with a solid finish at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth.

In Boston, she finished 1,072nd in the women’s division with a time of 3:28.48.

Aalgaard Kelly’s marathon times, and ability to successfully juggle a career as an assistant professor at Minnesota State Moorhead with life as a busy mom, made Pearlberg believe she could become an elite runner.

She has the right body type and the right temperament, Pearlman said.

“She looks like a mild-mannered human being,” said Pearlberg, the author of the book, “Run Tall, Run Easy.” “Inside, she’s kind of an assassin. You need that. She’s a quiet assassin.”

Pearlberg emailed Aalgaard Kelly weekly workout plans. Aalgaard Kelly followed it to the letter.

Five months later, she dropped almost a half-hour from her previous-best time with a 3:01.17 finish at the Twin Cities Marathon last October. She won the Dragon Fire 10K in Moorhead in April before her victory in Orlando.

Pearlberg says he’s set a goal for Aalgaard Kelly to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. She’s currently 15 minutes off the provisional qualifying standard of 2:46.

The Olympic Trials for marathon are scheduled for Jan. 14, 2012 in Houston.

“Sometimes when you shoot for the stars, you reach the moon,” Pearlberg said.

First, Aalgaard Kelly has her sights on a good finish at the Fargo Marathon later this month. Last year’s winner finished with a time of 2:53.15.

“I just really want to run the best I can,” Aalgaard Kelly said. “It’s going to be tough. I just hope everything comes together.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Here’s a link to, Running Network, and a story about Aalgaard Kelly’s win in the Disney Princess Half Marathon: