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Stewartville man dies while attempting to run across southern Minnesota

A 65-year-old Stewartville man's quest to run across the state abruptly ended this week when he died in his sleep at about the halfway mark.

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WASECA — A 65-year-old Stewartville man's quest to run across the state abruptly ended this week when he died in his sleep at about the halfway mark.

Reggie Oeltjen, who was featured earlier this month in the Post Bulletin , was found dead Wednesday in his RV that was parked at Kiesler's Campground in Waseca , according to Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School superintendent Bill Adams. Oeltjen had parked his camper in JWP's parking lot the night before while roughly halfway through his ambitious 20-day, 280-mile trek.

Oeltjen's daughter, Natalie, confirmed that news Wednesday afternoon on her father's blog that was tracking his unusual journey, which was being done simply for fun. The family was not immediately available for comment.

"It is with a very sad heart that I am letting everyone know that my dad passed away peacefully in his sleep last night," Natalie wrote at 3:41 p.m. Wednesday. "We don't know the cause yet but I can say that his runs were going really well and he seemed to be feeling great when he went to bed."

Funeral arrangements are pending with Zion Lutheran Church in Stewartville and expected early next week.

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Adams wasn't yet aware of Oeltjen's death when contacted Thursday for comment. He raced to the blog to confirm the news, noting the final photo was one of Oeltjen posing with 17 JWP sixth-graders.

"That's a shocker to all of us over here," Adams said.

News of Oeltjen's death spread quickly throughout Southeast Minnesota's well-connected running scene. Jean Murray, chairwoman of Rochester Track Club , sent out a somber email on Wednesday, while Team R.E.D. founder Tom O'Leary shared the news on Facebook shortly afterward.

Oeltjen was attempting to run across southern Minnesota while following U.S. Highway 14, starting near Brookings, S.D., and ending in Winona. He had completed about 177 miles of the nearly 300-mile journey at the time of his death.

He was running about 15 miles per day and had planned to reach Byron in time for Sunday's Med City Marathon . He'd told the Post Bulletin that he'd never run that far for that long in his life.

However, he's well known within the local running community due to his kindness and generosity. For example, O'Leary said Oeltjen was granted Team Red's only honorary lifetime membership after paying for Roger Heil's lifetime membership.

Byron's track team, through O'Leary, actually sent Oeltjen an encouraging video a few days before his untimely death. Oeltjen had also parked his RV in the yard of O'Leary's aunt, who lives in Lake Crystal, at about the same time.

"I called my aunt last night to tell her the news and it was like someone close to her had passed away," O'Leary said. "When you see someone doing something this amazing, you want to reach out and hold them close. It's a big loss."

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It's an especially difficult loss for Natalie, who was traveling with her father while training for a triathlon. Despite never meeting, she reached out to O'Leary Thursday morning asking that Team R.E.D. join her at the Med City Marathon. She had planned to complete the half marathon with her father.

O'Leary said he's in the process of rallying his troops to her side for what he expects to be an emotional event.

"You can tell someone is hurting when they reach out to someone they've never met," O'Leary said. "But it's a great idea and we'll absolutely pull this together."

Related Topics: TOURISM
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