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These dudes are made for walking. Costa Mesa friends turn 100K-step challenge into charitable mission

Matt Weich and Danny Wexler walk up Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa on Monday.
Matt Wiech, left, and Danny Wexler walk up Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa on Monday. The friends recently embarked on a 45-mile, 100,000-step Olympian Sandal Fitbit challenge as a charity effort for O.C. nonprofit WISEPlace.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

It was about 4:30 a.m. and pitch black outside Monday morning when Costa Mesa resident Matt Wiech laced up his walking shoes and headed out the front door.

From there, it was just a half-mile walk to his friend Danny Wexler’s house — a short precursor to a 45-mile journey that would take the longtime friends on several circuits through their Mesa Verde neighborhood in support of a good cause.

Regular walkers who daily note their progress on Fitbit fitness trackers, Wexler and Wiech often earn virtual badges of recognition for walking feats accomplished.

Recently, the duo jointly decided to take up Fitbit’s most daunting challenge: the Olympian Sandal badge. To earn the distinction, and the bragging rights that come with it, participants must walk 100,000 steps, or 45 miles, in a single day before the clock strikes midnight.

“We were sitting in my backyard for the first time since the pandemic, and [Matt] said, ‘Would you walk 100,000 steps with me in one day?’” Wexler, 57, recalled en route. “I average about 39,000 steps a day, and he averages around 17,000 — so he’s really pushing it.”

Danny Wexler shows how many miles he's walked that day on his Fitbit fitness tracker.
Danny Wexler shows how many miles he’s walked Monday on his Fitbit fitness tracker app as friend Matt Wiech looks on.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The pair would embark on “A Quixotic Quest for 100,000 Steps” and record their exploits for friends and neighbors on Facebook Live. Figuring the venture would be a good way to support a local charity, Wiech and Wexler turned it into a fundraiser for Santa Ana-based WISEPlace, where Wiech’s wife, Danielle, recently became a board member.

Ben Lewis of Costa Mesa won Monday night’s “Jeopardy!” show and will appear with Greg Marrero of Huntington Beach on Tuesday night. Host Alex Trebek died on Sunday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Since 1929, when it operated as South County YWCA, WISEPlace has provided shelter and services that help vulnerable women throughout Orange County transition from homelessness.

“We thought with the pandemic and how difficult things are, wouldn’t it be nice to help some women find housing, especially with the holidays coming up,” said Wiech, 50.

“Doing this for charity, that’s given us a raison d'être,” Wexler added.

The two-man team collected donations from friends and area businesses, including Torelli Realty, which provided them with signature purple shirts by way of sponsorship.

“We were sitting in my backyard for the first time since the pandemic, and [Matt] said, ‘Would you walk 100,000 steps with me in one day?’ I average about 39,000 steps a day, and he averages around 17,000 — so he’s really pushing it.”

— Danny Wexler

Putting themselves on the hook to others provided just the motivation the two needed to stick things out, even when Wiech’s Achilles heel began acting up somewhere around the 50,000-step mark. To help the time pass, they walked to a playlist of themed songs including 80s hits “Walking on Sunshine” and “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

The pair made a few pitstops along the way, refueling with egg McMuffins at the McDonald’s on Harbor Boulevard and hoofing it to the Costco in Fountain Valley, where a friend and donor treated them to a mid-afternoon snack of hotdogs.

All dietary sins, of course, were neutralized by the massive number of calories the walkers burned during their quest. By 9 a.m. Monday, Wexler had already logged 28,500 steps, or 12.8 miles, and burned 2,137 calories, while Wiech had just passed the 25,000-step mark to burn 2,965 calories.

Although they gave themselves 16 hours to complete the mission, it took nearly 18 hours for Wiech and Wexler to reach the 45-mile mark at around 10:45 p.m. Together, they raised $7,300 for WISEPlace.

Matt Weich and Danny Wexler, from left, walk up Harbor Blvd in Costa Mesa on Monday.
Matt Weich, left, and Danny Wexler walk in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I’m sore,” Wiech reported Tuesday afternoon. “From my waist up I’m good. But my ankle hurts, my left knee hurts, my right Achilles heel is sore and my calves feel tight. To top it all off, I got blisters all over my feet.”

Despite any aches and pains sustained during their trek, the duo is pleased to have accomplished a meaningful personal victory. And for Brateil Aghasi, chief executive of WISEPlace, their effort means even more.

The first cohort of secondary students returned to campuses across Newport Beach and Costa Mesa this Monday. The second cohort will begin on Thursday.

The organization estimates it takes about $1,200 to help a female client transition to her first month of housing, including a deposit and rental assistance — meaning what Wiech and Wexler have so far raised enough to help six women in this manner.

Such help means a lot, Aghasi said, at a time when vulnerable women are especially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and people are isolated from one another.

“This was such a creative and inspiring way to get involved, do something they love and help raise positivity and money for women experiencing homelessness,” she added. “It was a great reminder one person can and does make a difference.”

To learn more about or contribute to the “Quixotic Quest for 100,000 Steps,” visit wiseplace.org/olympian-sandal-challenge.

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