RollinХ Through Town

Inline skating has been a recreation activity for decades, preceded by nostalgic roller skating, which was developed--believe it or not--in the 1700s. The popularity of the sport has become even more apparent through the many competitive inline events held throughout the country.

The largest event in North America is the NorthShore Inline Marathon in Duluth, Minn., hosting more than 3,000 participants each year.

Recently, Grand Forks, N.D., hosted the state’s first inline marathon. It targeted not only the speedy inline professionals who participated in a pro half-marathon, but also recreation full- and half-marathon divisions.

Overall, expectations were exceeded, as the event drew more than 240 participants, ranging in age from 8 to 77, with varying abilities.

Making It Happen

The Rollin’ on the River Inline Marathon was conceived, organized, and implemented within a year. Given the unique strengths of the community related to hockey in the winter and the popularity of inline skating on the Greenway during the summer, the idea of an inline-skating marathon quickly surfaced as a top contender.

Led by resident and inline skater Laura Jelinek, a committee comprised of recreation, business, and city professionals was formed. What seemed to be a far-flung dream became a thrilling reality on August 27, 2011.

The geography of the area helped spur participation since Grand Forks is relatively flat. This was especially enticing to professional skaters from neighboring states and Canada because flat translates to fast!

A concerted effort by committee members brought in more than $60,000 through sponsorships and grants, allowing the planning committee to jump on the fast track toward bringing the marathon to fruition.

Passion And Partnerships

Collaboration among community leaders, combined with the passion and devotion of grass-roots volunteers, proved to be key links in the event’s overall success.

For instance, the park district was asked to get involved due to its reputable non-profit status and experience in providing recreation activities and large-scale special events for the community.

Presenting-sponsor Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitor Bureau and the city provided financial support, communication, and the manpower needed to formulate the route, acquire permits, and coordinate activities.

Private businesses and sponsors (such as local sporting-goods stores) provided further connections to potential participants, while the local media played a significant role in communicating to the public on a broad scale.

The Main Event

Despite the lengthy planning meetings, mile-long to-do lists, and what seemed like the never-ending tick, tock of the clock, race day arrived in a blink.

Instead of a gunshot to mark the start of the race, all three divisions were launched with the boom of a cannon (yes, I said cannon). Participants said this was the most unique way of beginning an inline event anywhere.

The full-marathon route--comprised of two loops (totaling 26.2 miles/42 kilometers)--twisted through the streets of Grand Forks. The neighborhoods along the route were full of enthusiastic onlookers.

The professional division started first during the early-morning event. Each division followed in three-minute intervals. The first professional to cross the finish line for the pro half-marathon took just over 36 minutes.

A Great Cause

The proceeds generated from the inline event, along with a special golf tournament on the same weekend, were designated for the Grand Forks Parks and Recreation Foundation--Perry Nakonechny Youth Sports Fund. The fund honors the memory of a local resident, Perry Nakonechny, a former University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey player, who was an advocate for youth throughout his career as a teacher.

Although committee members are enjoying a well-deserved break, they plan to reconvene and start planning the second annual Rollin’ on the River Inline Marathon.

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Brandy Chaffee is Communications Specialist for the Grand Forks Park District in Grand Forks, N.D. She can be reached via e-mail at