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University of Minnesota

Putting her best (bare) foot forward

September 26, 2011

Ness Madeiros.

Ness Madeiros, a native of Bermuda, is in her second year of graduate work at the School of Kinesiology. She says she's particularly interested in "motivating non-active people to enjoy physical activity," especially youth.

Photo: Rick Moore

U student running marathon barefoot to fund cleft surgeries for needy children

By Rick Moore

Ness Madeiros doesn’t know what possessed her to start running around barefoot. One day she just took her shoes off and took to the streets.

“It lasted about five minutes and then the bottoms of my feet hurt, so I went home,” Madeiros laughs. “And then the next day I tried for six, and then I just built up that way.”

She’s certainly not the only person in the world who runs barefoot, but her preference has its limitations, especially in Minnesota.

What makes her pursuit noteworthy is that Madeiros, a graduate student in kinesiology, is attempting to run the entire Twin Cities Marathon barefoot, and along the way she’s raising money to fund surgeries for children in developing countries who need cleft lip and palate repair.

Madeiros has friends back in her native Bermuda with a 5-year-old son born with a cleft lip and palate. Since his parents have financial resources, he received surgeries as an infant and will continue to have the necessary care to live a normal life.

“I was just thinking about kids who don’t have those resources,” Madeiros says. “I thought if I can raise a little bit of money, a bunch of kids who wouldn’t otherwise have surgery will be able to eat and speak and go to school and be a part of society, [a chance they otherwise wouldn’t have].”

She also began writing about her goals, her divergent training methods, and the reactions she encounters when running around town. Her entertaining blog is called “Barefoot for kids: Raising money and awareness through shoeless-ness.” Here’s an excerpt:

… It’s 7.30 am and already 87 degrees with nearly 80% humidity—the kind of weather where, if you think too hard, you’ll break a sweat. I am nearing the end of my 400m intervals and have been in the hurt box for about half an hour, so I am dripping with sweat, struggling for air, and completely in the zone. I have my Ipod blaring in my ears and, during my 90 seconds of resting [read: trying desperately to accommodate my body's need for oxygen] a woman approaches me and says something. I remove my earbuds and ask her to repeat herself. ”Comfortable” she says, “Is it comfortable to run with bare feet on the track?”

I stare at her, utterly confused. After 30 minutes of a sauna-hot interval run, the word “comfortable” doesn’t have any meaning for me. I can’t even begin to recall what it means. It’s like she’s talking another language with this foreign word “comfortable”. I stare at her for a few more seconds while my brain catches up. At last I remember the word and realize that she is referring to the bouncy surface of the track. ”Yes” I reply. ”Yes, it’s quite comfortable.”

Blissfully barefoot

While it may not be for everyone, running barefoot seems to have become a part of Madeiros’s fiber—a second skin, if you will. 

“The ‘problem’ with barefoot running is it’s kind of addictive. It’s really, really enjoyable,” she says. “Once you’ve started it’s very difficult to put your shoes back on, so it’s really impractical. Living in Minnesota, it’s extremely impractical.”

Despite her own comfort level in running barefoot, she’s amazed at how many people react with surprise, disdain—even anger—when they see her out on the street.

“People get emotional about it,” she says. “They’ll scream out the window, like, ‘Go home and put your shoes on.’ [But] some people cheer out the window. It’s a mixed bag.”

Less than two weeks before her big barefoot bash—the 30th Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon—Madeiros took a few minutes to pose for some photos in front of Cooke Hall. Her exposed feet on a chilly day drew the attention of some passersby, much as they do when she’s out hitting the pavement on a training run.

Now if her blog and fundraising goals can draw the attention of a few more generous folks, she’ll be barefoot and happy.

“The irony of all this is when I was a kid I wanted to be a foot model,” Madeiros laughs.

In the end, she’s become a model for what you can do with your feet.

To read stories about the ups and downs of her training or to support the Face Forward Fund, visit Madeiros’s blog, Barefoot for kids.

Tags: College of Education and Human Development

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Barefoot for kids