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Running for her life

72-year-old Donita Harris keeps her health in check with perfect running form -- and her shoes stay in the closet

by: Billy Gates/The Pioneer - Donita Harris, 72, of Madras, runs barefoot in the Madras Physical Therapy office under the watchful eye of physical therapist Trevor Groves last week. In an effort to help control her Diabetes, Harris said she enjoys running barefoot simply because it feels better.

Trevor Groves, co-owner of Madras Physical Therapy, hasn't seen anything like it.
   The correct foot strike, proper hip and back alignment, perfect posture and the snappy cadence of steps rapping against the treadmill resonates throughout the building.
   You would think that's a seasoned, competitive runner with maximum education and knowledge of the sport - but think again.
   That's the pitter-patter of 72-year-old Donita Harris.
   Oh, by the way, she does it without shoes.
   The Madras woman, who hasn't had a lick of formal, modern running training, continues to defy not just Father Time, but has Groves baffled and impressed.
   "Her form is amazing," said Groves, who leads monthly running clinics at MPT. "She has it naturally. When she started running in the clinic, I just thought, `What beautiful form.'"
   Groves said what Harris does is known as "minimalist shock" running, meaning the runner either wears very thin shoes, or in Harris' case, none at all.
   Recent studies have suggested that type of running promotes the ideal form, something Harris has an innate sense for.
   "She knew it without knowing it," Groves said.
   Groves admitted when Harris told him she was a runner, he didn't buy it.
   But all it took was just one jog in the clinic and Groves was a believer.
   Diagnosed with diabetes, Harris said running is vital to help keep the disease in check, and has helped her lost more than 30 pounds recently.
   She has also had thyroid problems in the past, and credited running with helping her overcome those as well.
   But most of all, Harris runs because she enjoys it, and she does it barefoot simply because "it feels better."
   She said she can't run outside anymore because of the risk she might fall and break something, and then she'd "be in big time trouble," as she put it.
   Instead, she runs on a treadmill at her home and at the clinic to keep diabetes at bay, as well as her strength, so she can get around.
   "I ran all my young life until I was about 30 years old," she said. "After that, I walked to stay in shape. Hills, gullies, whatever. I was always doing something."
   Teaching people how to run properly isn't an easy task, Groves said. Since most everyone runs around at a young age, habits are developed and are pretty tough to break.
   He said the most violated rule, one that can potentially lead to serious injury, is an improper foot strike, which means the wrong part of your foot hits the ground first.
   "You want to strike the ground with your mid-foot," Groves said. "Heel-striking, which most people do, can lead to pain and serious injury if done long term."
   Groves also outlined other techniques that are involved in proper form, such as the foot contacting the ground directly below the hip, extending the spine, a slight forward lean in the ankles and taking about 180 steps per minute, all encompass proper running form.
   Groves is all about promoting running as a sport, and of course doing it properly, so his business and the MAC have teamed to put on the Oktoberfest Run, Oct. 13, at MPT in the South Y Complex lower parking lot at the intersection of Third and K streets.
   The event features a 5K run/walk, 10K run and a new endeavor called the "Westside Mile."
   The idea behind the mile, Groves said, was to give the west side of town a piece of the recreation pie and "bring the community together" since most of those opportunities are on the east side of town.
   "Our hope is that many folks will support this neighborhood event in a spirit of fun," Groves said.
   Running the mile is free, while registration for the longer events is at 8 a.m. and costs $5 for MAC members, $10 for nonmembers in district and $15 for out-of-district residents.
   The "Westside Mile" is free of charge and begins at 9 a.m.
   Groves hopes stories like Harris' will get people off the couch and help them hit the pavement.
   "I think it's such an inspiration for someone who has a few more candles on the birthday cake and stays as active as she does," he said.