ROHNERT PARK − Donna Merritt has been managing Merritt-Nelson Custom Builders’ office for more than 20 years, but outside of work, she has an entirely different claim to fame. “I’m a competitive slalom water skier, which is something I’ve been doing for the past seven years,” she explains. “In 2013, at the age of 58, I became a U.S. champion with the tournament group I compete with.”
Donna’s athletic abilities don’t stop there: she’s also a world record-holding powerlifter. “With some encouragement from my personal trainer, I began powerlifting in 2012 and actually set a new world record in my first competition,” she says. “Needless to say, I was shocked at how well I did!” As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she also recently entered her first bodybuilding figure competition and won first place in her age bracket.
When asked her motivation for pursuing these various athletic endeavors, Donna says it’s simply a natural extension of the way she feels. “I’ve always been very interested in health and exercise, and I’ve found that the more I do it, the better I feel. I’m nearly 60 and I’ve never felt better. Some people call me crazy, but I plan on competing as long as I feel this good.”
Long before she became a record-setting athlete, Donna began working for Merritt-Nelson Custom Builders after her husband, Gary, and his partner founded the business in 1993. After two-plus decades with the company, she says her favorite part of the job is helping clients realize their remodeling goals. “I enjoy the process of taking a client’s dream for their home or office and turning it into a reality.”
A resident of Marin County, Donna expresses her appreciation for the natural beauty and diversity of the local landscape. “I’m really grateful for such a beautiful area to live in, as well as having access to so much within such a short distance. The coast, the mountains, San Francisco, the wine country—anything you might want to do is just a few hours away.”
When she’s not in the office or training for her next competition, Donna spends much of her time relaxing at local reservoirs. “My husband and I are avid boaters, and we like to be on the water as often as we can,” she says. Additionally, she enjoys spending quality time with her grown children, Dawn and Nick, and her two-year-old grandson, Peyton.
In regard to both her athletic and professional careers, Donna credits much of her success to her willingness to step outside of her comfort zone. “When my personal trainer first suggested I compete in bodybuilding, I had my doubts, but now I’m a world-class powerlifter,” she says. “I think that just goes to show what you can accomplish when you simply step outside your comfort zone and attempt new things.”
When asked what her future retirement might look like, Donna says she’ll likely split her time between life at home and travels abroad. “My husband’s dream is to buy a big yacht, sail to the Caribbean and just hop from island to island. As good as that sounds, I also want to be able to spend more time with friends and family, particularly my grandkids, so we’ll have to find a compromise.”