Running the extra mile — barefoot

DISTANCE: UND Cross country runner prefers to run outside without shoes.

Meet Dwight Mandimika: senior, double major, cross country athlete, team player and barefoot runner.

More than three years ago, Mandimika traveled almost 9,000 miles from his home in Harare, Zimbabwe, to attend  UND, with the sole intention of getting a degree in Commercial Aviation.

Now, he is double majoring in Commercial Aviation and International Studies, working at the Alumni Center and running 76 miles every week with UND’s men’s cross country team. Mandimika has already received two cross country letters, and three for track and field.

Just last week, Mandimika led North Dakota at the University of Minnesota’s Oz Memorial Run, finishing the 6K in 20th place with a time of 20 minutes, 27.8 seconds — an encouraging feat after his last season was cut short from a stress fracture in his left leg.

Mandimika did not come to UND to run. In fact, he was more into cricket and field hockey back home. It wasn’t until two of his peer mentors at international orientation during his freshman year introduced him to Dick Clay, the cross country team coach, that Mandimika took running seriously and quickly fell in love with the sport.

“I accidentally stumbled upon running, which was a happy coincidence,” Mandimika said.

As far as shoes go, Mandimika sees them as more of a hindrance than an aid.

“Running barefoot just feels more natural to me, and I’m used to it,” he said. “Shoes just feel like an inconvenience. Without them, you have a more natural running form, and you end up running the way your body wants to run.”

Mandimika does, however, have to lace up for some practices.

“Coming to North Dakota was more of a weather shock than a culture shock,” Mandimika said. “There have been days where I’ve been running outside in negative 40 degrees.”

After three years of his busy routine, the weather is still the toughest obstacle, but Mandimika takes it in stride.

“Distance running is a really taxing event because you have to put so much time into it,” he said. “No matter what, you’ve got to be out there. Otherwise, when you’re sitting there not training, someone else is, and I’m not going to let myself get beat by someone because they out-trained me.”

It’s still early in North Dakota’s season, but it already has a solid group with a team focus.

“Cross country is a lot more of a team sport than people realize,” Mandimika said. “Individual success is pretty much based on the rest of the team — how much they can push you and how well you can work together. The younger runners look at us (the captain and seniors) as examples of what it takes to compete at this level.”

The older teammates guide the incoming freshmen and younger runners on what to eat, how much sleep to get, etc., and the group always forms a close bond.

Mandimika’s favorite part of cross country is the team trips.

“I get to travel for free while spending time with my friends,” he said.

Mandimika’s parents, Aldrin and Elinah Mandimika, have not yet been to North Dakota to see him run, but they are planning to come over this coming spring. Dwight has a brother and sister attending Yale, and they are also hoping to see their brother in action.

Mandimika has hopes that the team will make it to nationals this year.

“I’m really excited, we are going to have a really good season,” Mandimika said.

The team’s next race will be Sept. 21 at the University of Nebraska’s Woody Greeno Invitational.

Marie Monson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].