Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Diamond Head beckons. A national treasure, Hawaii’s 300,000-year-old volcano crater invites people the world over to come and climb, to traverse the challenging trail and take in the breathtaking coastal views from atop its 560-foot peak.

An ocean away in the town of Shelly, Minn. -- population 266 -- an 84-year-old heard the call. Ruth Haugen had climbed Diamond Head years before, but wouldn’t it be monumental to climb it at 85? She looked at her pink-flowered cane and quietly wondered…

“A lot happened after I turned 80,”she says, sitting in her dining room sipping coffee from a china cup. “A broken hip, a knee replacement, hospital stays, a nursing home for rehabilitation - just an awful lot.”

There was no doubt Ruth still had the spirit, courage and passion. Widowed as a young mother, she’d raised two daughters, taught school, worked in a beet plant and driven trucks. For 41 years she’d attended the Minnesota State Fair and looked forward to year 42.

But was she physically able to climb Diamond Head? Even at home she struggled with steps, taking them one at a time and stopping in between. Her strength, stamina and balance had declined. How could she hike the three-quarter mile trail with switchbacks, rough terrain and steep staircases?

Her heart’s desire

Exercise specialist Brett Beil met Ruth last November at Sanford Lifelong Fitness Center in Fargo. Brett works with people of all ages -- high school athletes who seek to better their performance, aging baby boomers who want to get back into shape, retirees who’d like to improve their quality of life.

“Ruth had such a wonderful goal,” says Brett. “I’d never worked with someone her age who wanted something that adventurous and exciting. She’s tremendously inspirational!”

Twice a week Ruth drove an hour from Shelly to Fargo for an exercise session with Brett. An initial evaluation led to an exercise plan that combined cardiovascular fitness, strength training and balance. Brett also worked around Ruth’s physical limitations, including nerve pain in her left leg. Safety and health were top priorities.

“Ruth always had the biggest, brightest attitude. And she was curious about the exercise machines other people were using,” says Brett. The largest exercise facility in the region, Lifelong Fitness Center offers 100+ pieces of equipment - all top-notch.

The elliptical machine quickly became Ruth’s favorite, but it was difficult. She started at two minutes and worked her way up to 20.

“Thanks to Brett, I can even walk up the steps again like a normal person,” says Ruth, who continues to exercise at Lifelong Fitness. “Now if I could just get down on the ground and weed...”

Spirit quest

Early morning on March 15, 2010, Ruth and her daughters arrived at Diamond Head. A gentle rain fell off and on, but not enough to halt the journey.

Wearing an orange and yellow lei and using her cane, Ruth slowly made her way up the crater. The climb took longer than usual, partly because hikers much younger wanted to snap her photo and offer congratulations. “For one day I was an inspiration,” she says, laughing.

When she reached the top, her daughters presented her with a handmade sign: “I climbed Diamond Head on my 85th birthday!!!” A group of teenagers spontaneously sang happy birthday. Not one to forget who helped her, Ruth phoned Brett to say she made it.

And the view? “Absolutely spectacular, just like before,” she says. “For that moment I forgot I was 85.”

Ruth has photos of a rainbow that stretched across the sky that morning. “I looked up and all I could say was ‘Thank you God. Thank you for this chance…”

What’s your “impossible dream”? Let the experts at Sanford Lifelong Fitness help you reach your goals.

Posted Date: January 2011

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

At age 84, Ruth Haugen still had the inner strength to climb a mountain. But was she physically able? “A lot happened after I turned 80,” she says. Discover the key that unlocked her dream.