“Endurance is a mindset—you must stick with it to make a difference,” shared Donato in season one of Boundless, a reality series on the Travel & Escape Network that he hosts and helped create. He and his cohort, Paul “Turbo” Trebilcock, completed 1000 km of multi-sport racing across the globe in four months’ time. Together, they performed ultra runs (more than 50 km), paddle and kayak races, bike, and Ironman races in Iceland, Hawaii, Africa, Thailand, Egypt, Cambodia, and Utah.
For an athlete, low moments are often defined in raw realities. Donato’s lowest moments as an ultra athlete occurred in Kenya and Cambodia when his original race goals began to slip away.
He says, “I was forced in both cases to seriously reevaluate my motives and adjust my goals … rolling with the punches required intense soul-searching (minute by minute) … I’ve learned it’s okay to adjust the plan and simply enjoy the incredible experience I was having.”
An Ontario native of Italian decent, Donato was hired fresh out of the doctorate program at McMaster University by Imperial Oil in Calgary. Four years with the corporation found Donato working projects in remote northerly locales, such as Kearl and Cold Lakes and the Arctic. Never accepting the status quo, Donato began to have an effect on how field exploration could be completed. Donato’s ability to integrate fitness into his work routine led to his involvement in remote field expeditions of emerging hydrocarbon plays in the Canadian North. Donato was also instrumental in promoting a healthy, active lifestyle to his colleagues while at Imperial.
Donato expresses the need to nurture one’s sustainability to accomplish these vast feats: “I endeavor to live a life above the grey haze of mediocrity, and do this by making my dreams realities and pushing myself to achieve my personal best … without great goals and challenges, we will never truly know what we are capable of achieving, be it business, personal, athletic, or otherwise … tackling big challenges will enrich the fabric of our lives and help us rediscover ourselves and provide an opportunity for personal growth … In life you plant seeds. Some grow. Some don’t.”
Adventure Science, a business he created to nurture his life-long love of exploration, is self-funded and, inarguably, Donato’s most impassioned project. Started in 2008 with an attempt to find the missing pilot, Steve Fossett, in the Sierra Nevadas, Adventure Science’s proverbial litmus test proved his desire to advance the business. This past May, his most recent adventure took him, and several other science seekers, to North Dakota, one of the United States’ least populated states. In the badlands, “100 Miles of Wild” had them enduring the natural elements and trekking 270 miles, seeking to investigate the effects of drilling in the Bakken Formation, where the natural environment inspired Theodore Roosevelt to create the U.S. National Park system. The team dispelled rumors of radioactive waste dumps, noted an abundance of wildlife, discovered several archaeological sites, and was in awe of the physicality of the landscape. They also witnessed the respectful containment of the oil and gas production occurring in the Williston Basin.
“The well density wasn’t that bad,” he said when asked about how badly violated has been the landscape by the massive production of crude in the area. “You [just] see a red ribbon cutting through the landscape from the air.”
With a second season of Boundless already begun, Donato’s ability to establish sustainability in all aspects of his life is remarkable. He is the co-founder and director of Stoked Oats, a company created from his and his partners’ nutritional needs—carving a new market for customized oatmeal blends to fill an evident void in the marketplace. His partners are Brad, a fellow athlete and oatmeal eater, and Shaun, a graphics designer. Now available across Canada, Stoked Oats was the formula to fulfill the need for sustainable nutrition for high-endurance athletes and conscientious eaters.
With a year of ultra races on the horizon, Donato spoke to the concept of sustainability in times of depletion, devastation, and discouragement.
Within those moments of absolute exhaustion, Donato stresses that one must “reinforce the importance of knowing, and, more importantly, of listening to your body.” With a black belt in karate, Donato shares his learnings: “Water will break down rock every time.” He recounted the incident with Sophie, a female athlete on the series, who was airlifted out of the Cambodian jungle halfway through the 6-stage/day race, diagnosed with hyponatremia and given a 50 percent chance to live. Nonetheless, she survived to run another race only six weeks following her full recovery.
He asserts, “If you know your body well, you’ll be able to recognize the signals it sends you and know when it’s time to dial it back.”
Donato’s highest moment as an ultra athlete occurred when he podiumed in the Sahara following the final grueling 86 km of the five-stage 250 km running race, which was completed on pure grit and determination.
He finishes by saying, “Many of us find ourselves in a habitual routine that we don’t deviate from due to fear; however, our lives are a collection of moments, relationships, and experiences burned into our memories due to the emotions that accompany them. The stronger the emotional experience, the greater the memory—and it gives you something to talk about at dinner parties.”
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