Anxiety and apprehension were weighing on Mollie Sanchez in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A nurse working with senior citizens by day and tending to mother duties by night, the 29-year Iowa native needed an outlet to relieve the stress of balancing work and family while the world around her became increasingly focused on social distancing, staying home and avoiding coronavirus.

That’s when Sanchez saw a call from Mayor Paul TenHaken for Sioux Falls residents to get outside and log 100 miles of walking, biking or running in 100 days. Less than four months later, the mother of three and Avera Prince of Peace healthcare worker is 70 pounds lighter and is the proud new owner of a Trek mountain bike after being named the winner of the mayor’s fitness challenge this week.

“COVID has taken a toll on me mentally as I work with a such a vulnerable population and I worry constantly for my kids, but being able to prioritize exercise and my health has put me in the best shape of my adult life,” Sanchez said.

Since the mayor’s challenge officially began April 20, Sanchez has logged more than 240 miles on city sidewalks and bike trails. Since then, she’s made running each evening a habit that she doesn’t plan to quit.

Sanchez said her motivation for setting aside time for exercise was there prior to the mayor’s challenge, wanting to shed weight she put on while pregnant with her third child and get in shape so she could be the best mother she could. But she credits the mayor’s fitness initiative for keeping her on task.

“I have to teach my kids healthy habits and I can’t do that if I’m not healthy myself,” Sanchez said. “The mayor’s challenge was really the accountability piece for me, but the motivation really came from my family.”

When TenHaken put out his call for the community to get active, Sioux Falls was in the midst of voluntary business closures and mandated patron limits at bars, restaurants and retail stores. He said he could tell the pandemic and the response to it was weighing on the community.

Getting outside in a safe manner and exercising was just one way people could manage social distancing while staying motivated, moving and safe, he said in an April 19 social media post.

This week, when he announced Sanchez as the winner of his 100-day challenge, he said Sanchez was among countless participants in the challenge who together logged tens of thousands of miles.

“I’m dang proud of how this community has got out there in recent months, setting aside the noise and focusing on health and wellness,” he said.

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