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Local woman crushes 80-mile challenge, goes six times that

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Donna Saathoff learned a few things about herself when she took on the Williams Wellness Center’s “80 miles in 80 days” social media challenge.

“When challenged, I become very determined not to miss a day and to beat the set goal. I really competed against myself,” said Saathoff, who owns Decades at 25 S. Frederick Ave. in downtown Oelwein and lives with her husband, Steve, in rural Hazleton.

She challenged herself to make it to 300 miles in 80 days, which concluded on July 31. She made it to 301 in that time. Then, her daughter challenged her to walk 500 miles by Oct. 1. She went 530. Saathoff reported Tuesday she has walked 150 days and 550 miles, over six times the challenge distance.

“So as long as my family challenges me I guess I will just keep walking!”

The Williams Center challenge came up as she was already walking regularly.

“I had started to walk two to three miles a day when Covid started so I thought I might as well sign up for The Challenge,” Saathoff said.

The challenge started May 11 as the state was beginning to ease shutdowns it ordered owing to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which affects the lungs and sometimes inflames the heart (myocarditis).

She reasoned the aerobic exercise would be good for her health.

“I walk for my health, and during Covid it’s one of the best things to do!” Saathoff said.

Exercise is not necessarily a failsafe as the coronavirus has also infected athletes, some severely.

Most days she walked within five miles of her farm.

“One week in July we were in northern Minnesota and I walked within seven miles of the resort there. On most of the weekends, I walked within four miles of our home at Holiday Lake, Brooklyn, Iowa.”

Although the terrain was pretty much the same, she took note of her surroundings.

“It seems as though there is always something different I would notice as I walked.”

Tropical depression Cristobal on June 9 alone dropped more than five inches of rain on Oelwein.

“Walking after the seven-inch rain we had was interesting,” Saathoff said. “The creek near our house was very high and a huge tree went down. Roads near our farm were washed out.”

The terrain changed at Holiday Lake, located in Poweshiek County in central Iowa, after the Aug. 10 derecho with the loss of many trees.

She also enjoyed watching the feathered and furry creatures during her walks.

“Nature is so amazing as well. I’m not sure how many days or weeks I watched a Killdeer (bird) protect her nest of eggs. I had no idea they build their nest in gravel! I saw a very diligent and determined mama keeping watch. She would call for assistance when danger was near (which was me) and another bird would come. Finally the eggs hatched and she moved on!

“I saw Blue Heron (or a type of crane) in the creek by our farm and also at Holiday Lake. I also saw the usual squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons and deer. Fortunately no skunks!”

This was in contrast to what she learned about in inclement weather.

“When the rain or cold kept me inside on the treadmill I only learned whatever was going on that day on the ‘Today Show’,” Saathoff said.

Several others joined her on her walks.

“My longtime friend (and neighbor) and I have walked our gravel road together off and on for over 30 years,” Saathoff said. “If we weren’t walking the road, we were walking the indoor track at the Wellness Center or the Oelwein Trail. There are a lot of memories made, experiences shared and stories to tell after that many miles.”

Family also joined.

“When we were vacationing in Minnesota, one of my daughters would walk with me early in the morning. It was great quiet one on one time together to visit and catch up. A few times one or more of our grandsons would walk with me in the evening. So fun to have that time with them.”

If spending time in nature and with family wasn’t enough, the health benefits of walking also encouraged her.

Overall, she’s happy with the result.

“Would I do it again… Sure,” Saathoff said. “I wouldn’t change a thing about the challenge.”