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The barefoot marathon runner . . . . . . and the children she intends to help

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A Bermudian woman studying sports psychology in Minneapolis, Minnesota, plans to run her first ever marathon in her bare feet to raise money for children born with cleft palates and lips.

Vanessa ‘Ness’ Madeiros, 33, is a student at the University of Minnesota, studying sports psychology. She will be taking part in the Twin Cities Marathon, running with approximately 1,200 other people.

She is hoping to raise $10,000 for the Face Forward Foundation, which sends a medical team once a year to developing countries to do cleft palate and cleft lip surgical repairs on children who can’t afford the surgery. The team most recently went to Nicaragua.

Miss Madeiros is currently halfway to her financial goal. Cleft palates and cleft lips are facial deformities that occur during gestation, and can be treated with surgery often soon after birth. Unfortunately, in many developing countries, the incidence of it is high, and many families cannot afford the surgery. In countries such as India, a facial deformity can destroy any chance for marriage and a happy future for the person who has it. These deformities can also have an impact on a person’s ability to eat and speak.

Before going back to college for a second degree, Miss Madeiros taught at Mount Saint Agnes Academy. She also taught private swimming lessons in the summer in Bermuda. It was through the swimming lessons that she met five-year-old Peter Strachen, who was born with a cleft palate and cleft lip.

“I have spent a lot of time with him over the last two summers,” said Miss Madeiros. “He couldn’t swim at all when I started teaching him, and now he is a really, really good swimmer for his age. He was easy to teach so I can’t take much credit. Competitive swimming is an option for him. He was born with a cleft lip and palate. One day I got to thinking how lucky he was that his parents had the financial resources to repair these problems. He had his lip repaired at four months old and his palate at eight months old.

“Having these problems is hard for a lot of reasons. Eating is difficult for a person with a cleft palate because they have a hole in the roof of their mouth. They often need speech therapy for a long time.”

Miss Madeiros has been running for most of her life and has trained for triathlons. She tried running barefoot for the first time about a year ago and loved the experience.

“It is a totally different experience because you have to pay attention,” said Miss Madeiros. “It is a lot more mindful. It is really meditative because you have to be focused on what you are doing. It also feels nice going over different terrains. For the marathon I will be running on roads.

“I do have a pair of Five Fingers Running Shoes (more like a glove for your foot than a shoe) that I use in the winter, but I don’t like them because it takes away half the experience. When I started running barefoot my feet started to change. They are wider than they were. If I had protection on the bottom of my feet (from the Five Fingers shoes) without the cushioning, I might have run too far, too soon, and possibly injured myself. When you run barefoot, it is self-regulating. The skin on the bottom of your feet starts to hurt before the structure of your feet hurts (bones), so you know when to stop.”

Miss Madeiros tries to go everywhere she can without shoes to help keep her feet conditioned for barefoot running.

“I get strange looks wherever I go,” she said. “One grocery store wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have shoes.”

At the University of Minnesota her ultimate goal is to obtain a PhD in sports psychology. She is interested in ways to motivate nonactive people to enjoy physical activity so it is sustainable.

“Moving our bodies is such a natural part of our species,” she said. “Everyone should be able to move their bodies in a way that feels good.”

l For more information or to make a donation go to www.crowdrise.com/barefoot4kids . Also, see her blog website at www.barefootadventures.wordpress.com .

Vanessa Madeiros and Peter Strachen, 5,

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Published September 30, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated September 30, 2011 at 9:46 am)

The barefoot marathon runner . . . . . . and the children she intends to help

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