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Winning runner prefers napkin-padded ‘Nike’

ILOILO CITY, Philippines — Her coaches encouraged her to wear running shoes to protect her feet.

But 11-year-old Rhea Bullos still preferred to run barefoot.

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“It’s as if something is restraining my feet,” she told the Inquirer in Hiligaynon.

The athlete from the town of Balasan won five gold medals in separate track and field events in the 2019 Iloilo School Sports Council (ISSC) Meet in Iloilo City which ended Friday.

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In the Elementary Girls Category of that event, she was declared the most bemedaled athlete.

Bullos, who stands 4 feet and 11 inches, drew attention for running without shoes, her feet protected only by a “putos” (cover or wrapper).

Improvised footwear

The “putos” is an improvised foot protection devised by her coaches for runners who prefer to run barefoot.

It involves wrapping each foot with elastic bandage strips over a strip of sanitary napkin under the sole as a cushion.

Bullos’ trainer, Predirick Valenzuela, posted on Dec. 9 a photo of her wearing the improvised footwear with the iconic Nike swoosh penciled in.

The photo went viral with 638 shares, 341 comments and 1,400 reacts as of that day, and more than 5,000 comments and 23,300 shares in the Facebook page of a local paper that posted the story.

“Rhea said she prefers running barefoot because that way, she runs faster,” said the 26-year-old Valenzuela, himself a silver medalist in the 4×100 meter relay of the 2016 Palarong Pambansa.

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The practice of wearing the “plaster adhesive-and-napkin” running shoes has been used by athletes of the Congressional District Sports Association (CDSA)-5 since 2010.

According to Valenzuela, who also wore the same “shoes” as a high school sprinter, the Leukoplast plaster adhesive “sticks” well even if wet and “reworn” several times.

Bullos’ photo prompted offers and donations for shoes for her and her teammates, including Nike itself.

At SM City, she was made to choose from three pairs of shoes and opted for the cheapest. The same with choosing a bag, according to Leone Tiosayco, another coach of Bullos.

“We trained hard and we only had two days to get used to the rubberized track because we are used to running on dirt tracks,” Bullos said.

‘A lot of potential’

The second of three siblings, Bullos joined sprint competitions in physical education class. Her class adviser then encouraged her to join the CDSA competition in 2018.

She, however, failed to top that event.

But this year, she is part of a 10-member elementary school girls athletic team representing Iloilo’s 5th congressional district.

“She is still young and trainable and has still a lot of potential,” Benedicto Prasas, one of her coaches, said in an interview.

Almost everyone in the elementary athletics team of the CDSA-5 (12 boys and 12 girls) use improvised running shoes because they had to make do with only two pairs of spiked running shoes, which was all that was given to them by the Division of Iloilo.

The division preferred to prioritize their health and well-being, providing vitamins and two free meals daily in the entire duration of a month’s training prior to the ISSC.

Yet a Facebook post was all it took to generate goodwill and charity.

Devyn Denton, a nurse from the United States, rallied her friends and colleagues to provide running shoes and socks for the entire CDSA -5 as well as their eight coaches and six trainers.

Others called Valenzuela offering to help in cash or in kind

Bullos will get more exposure when she competes in the Western Visayas Athletic Association Meet next year.

“I want to reach the higher meets like the Southeast Asian Games and the Palarong Pambansa,” she said, adding that she takes inspiration from her family.

Bullos’ father, Jerry, is a construction worker, and her mother Concepcion, a housewife.

Tiosayco said the trainers will encourage barefoot runners to wear shoes during competition, especially if the shoes are good.

“I will try to get used to it,” Bullos said.

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