Mother Nature tried to rain on Joan Monson’s parade, something that was as appropriate as it was futile.
Starting on July 1, 1994, Monson has walked 3 miles every day without fail, a streak that last week reached 25 years — or 9,131 days (counting six Feb. 29ths). She has walked through blizzards and polar vortexes, downpours and heat waves, hurricane-like winds and punishing hailstorms.
A group of friends gathered on a rainy morning to join her on her silver anniversary walk. They’d brought raincoats and umbrellas, knowing full well that Monson wasn’t going to let a few raindrops stop her.
“If it had been lightning, I wouldn’t have made them come,” she said.
Note that she said that they could have sat it out. She was going regardless, and her friends expected nothing less.
Donna Nelsen recalled one time that she intended to walk with Monson but it was raining so hard they could barely see. “I kept telling her, ‘Joan, Joan, Joan. Don’t go.’ Of course, she went.”
Nelsen waited a moment before adding: “I stayed home.”
The group Monson invited on her benchmark walk had an ironic subtext. It consisted of some of the people who had walked with her on her third anniversary. Monson had called them together that day in 1997, thinking that her streak was likely to end soon.
“I thought: ‘Gosh, I’d made it three years without missing a day, so I I figured I’d have a party.’ I never believed. …” She left the thought dangling as if even she was having trouble believing she’s still going.
In addition to Nelsen, the group included Judy Newhouse, Sally Krusell, Donna Loechler and Sherry Kuhn, who was filling in for her mother, Jan Kuhn, who was sick. Other members of that first party were there in spirit.
“Now I’m to the point where I’ve got real good friends who can’t walk 3 miles,” Monson said. “I credit God for giving me the power to keep going.”
God and the determination of a runaway train.
Her walks have not been without incident. She cracked a bone in her foot and couldn’t get her shoe to fit over the swelling, so she walked in her stocking feet. And she tripped on a sidewalk, breaking her wrist. Her walking companion that day suggested they turn back and go the hospital. She did go to the hospital — but not until after logging all 3 miles.
“It was my arm, not a leg,” she rationalized. “I could still walk. And I was back out the next day.”
A challenge to keep up
As Monson set out on the silver anniversary walk, it was immediately clear that this was not going to be a stop-and-smell-the-roses stroll. Like a mother duck leading a line of chicks, she set out on such a brisk pace that half a block into the trip, the stragglers were a quarter-block behind.
“I used to do 15-minute miles,” she said, a pace that exercise physiologists consider as being on the cusp of a jog. “I don’t go that fast anymore. I’ve got aches and pains, which are normal when you’re going to turn 80.”
“You’re going to turn 80?” she was asked.
“I’m 79 now,” she said, “That’s what comes next.”
As she breezed through her Golden Valley neighborhood, she kept an eye on safety. When she came to intersections that had cars in them, she made eye contact with the drivers and gave a friendly wave — which usually was returned.
But she’s not meek. When it was time to cross a busy street, she waited for the walkers to regroup, then stepped out in front of traffic coming from both directions and raised her arms, demanding that the drivers stop. They did.
“It’s like Moses parting the Red Sea,” Kuhn quipped as the group scurried to the other side.
Despite her impressive pace, little escapes Monson’s attention. She often picks up litter as she walks, as well as spare change. In 25 years, she has found a tad over $820.
The fact that she knows the amount is a testament to her inveterate record-keeping. She logs every mile she walks, a tally that’s up to 27,393 miles — and counting. That’s the equivalent of circumnavigating the Earth, with enough miles left over to walk from the Twin Cities to New York City and back again.
Walking isn’t her only daily exercise. In the summer, she also bikes 100 miles a month (and has the logs to prove it). As for her good health, she also gives credit to the one-half of a plain grapefruit she eats every morning.
“No records on this one, but it is has been for me a daily ‘must have’ for years,” she said.
Another thing that has lasted for years are her friendships.
“With Joan, you are friends forever,” said Loechler, who spends her summers in Hackensack, Minn., which she had left at 3:30 a.m. in order to be part of the walking group, a drive she shrugged off as being well worth it. “She has been a wonderful, wonderful friend.”
Walk inside? Forget it
Monson can be exasperating at times, her friends admit. It usually happens on bitterly cold winter days when they try to talk her into moving her daily walk into one of the shopping malls.
“We beg her to walk inside,” Nelsen said.
Monson always holds firm. “I don’t know why,” she admitted about refusing to change her routine. She added with a shrug: “I just don’t want to get in my car.”
She relented once this past winter — sort of. It was a February day in which sleet coated everything with ice that was then topped by a layer of snow. A quick step outside was enough to convince Monson that walking — let alone driving to a mall — was not a good idea.
“So I walked in my basement” using a cellphone app to measure the distance, she said. “I don’t have a very big basement.” It ended up taking her about 180 laps to get in her 3 miles.
Her friends have long given up suggesting that she skip a day.
“For anyone else, walking three or four times a week would be adequate,” Loechler said. “But no. She has to do seven. It’s just part of her.”
Monson isn’t exactly sure where the impetus for the streak came from. She didn’t set out to do this, she insisted.
“I never planned this as a marathon,” she said. “I remember realizing one day: Oh, my gosh. I’ve done this for 30 days. I should try for another 30 days.”
Or, perhaps, 30 years.