Ultrarunner of the Week – Donn Ozaki

Posted on May 8, 2008 by

Mile 18 of the Avalon 50 Mile Race was where I first met Donn.  He and his friend Jim Green were trying to play catch up after starting slow at the beginning of the race.  Coming back from an injury, I didn’t think there was any way I would be able to stay with them for as long as I did, but boy, am I glad that I did!  It is amazing how easily words flow with strangers in events like these.  I learned so much about the two of them for the next 20 miles.  It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship with people that would soon become my regular running partners. 

When Donn was young, he never excelled at sports, in fact, he despised running.  Graduating from high school was a relief because it meant that he would never have to do those torturous laps in gym class ever again. He officially hung up his running shoes until his early 30s.  He began to run a few miles in a local park every Sunday.  Both of his brothers were marathon runners, but Donn had no intentions of going that direction.  One day at work, he struck up a conversation with one of the temporary employees.  He shared with Donn that he liked to run 50 and 100 mile races.  This was crazy to him, but he never forgot that conversation.

In 1999, after being happily married for 9 years, Donn’s wife suggested that they join a local health club.  Damien loved the gym and it soon became a way of the two of them spending time together.  One day, a fitness instructor told the class about a local 10k trail run.  Donn was the only one interested in doing the race.   He ran it and loved it.  Shortly thereafter, his spinning class instructor told him about a 7.8 mile run in Griffith Park and he signed up for that one as well.  He was officially hooked.

In 2002, Donn participated in his first marathon.  Damien also joined him for runs and they would spend time together on the weekends on the dirt trails in the Santa Monica Mountains.  In 2005, he decided to take his running one step further and entered his first 50k at Lake Hodges.   Although Damien questioned his sanity at times, she was incredibly supportive of his running goals.

On November 6, 2006, life changed forever for Donn.  Damien suffered a massive brain hemorrhage while getting ready for work and never regained consciousness.  His wife and best friend for the past 16 years was gone.  Eventually, Donn turned to the trails for comfort.  Before long, he had joined both the Phidippides ‘Fun Runners’ for week day runs and the Santa Monica Goats on the weekends.  The loss of his wife made him realize that life is too short not to do the things that are important to him.

Damien passed away shortly before the Santa Barbara Nine Trails race, a gruelling 35 mile run thats difficulty level mirrors that of a challenging 50 mile race.  Instead of dropping out, Donn still ran the race, and the time that he spent on the trails made him feel closer to her with every step.  He now does this race every year. 

Donn never forgot the conversation that he had with his co-worker almost 15 years ago.  As his race distances progress from 50 miler to 100ks, he now feels ready to take on his first 100 miler.  “I want to live life to the fullest and experience some of the great 100 mile races out there,” says Donn.  “Along the way, I would like to make more new friends that share the same passion about ultrarunning that I do.”

On July 19, 2008, Donn will be running his first 100 mile race, the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run.


article by: Summer Wesson

Posted in: USA