Bradenton triathlete treks to D.C. on foot

vmannix@bradenton.comJune 14, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Nels Matson has a little trip planned beginning Saturday that will take him to Washington, D.C.

On foot.

The Lakewood Ranch High School assistant wrestling coach is going to run the whole way.

He'll attempt to cover 1,200 miles over 35 days, an average of 40 miles per day.

"No interstates, either," Matson said.

A congenital heart defect survivor, the 30-year-old teacher and triathlete is running to help fund open-heart surgeries for impoverished children in Cambodia. He'll do it through Hearts Without Boundaries, a California-based nonprofit that funds U.S. cardiac teams for such procedures, and his own Tri 4 Number 1 Foundation that supports nonprofits like Hearts Without Boundaries.

Matson will depart Satur

day morning from Pier 22 and plans to reach the Cambodian Embassy in Washington on July 19.

It's going to be a challenge, but he's game.

"The biggest hurdles will be the heat and the day-in and day-out grind of running 40 miles daily," he said. "It's mentally tedious, so the No. 1 thing you have to work through is putting any doubt out of your mind that you can't make it."

The former Iowa State wrestler has done it before.

Back in 2010, Matson biked coast to coast to raise funds for the Children's Heart Foundation. CHD is the No. 1 birth defect in the United States, affecting 40,000 babies yearly, as well as 1-in-100 worldwide,

The plight of more than 100,000 Cambodian children with CHD came to his attention during a 2012 speaking engagement where he met Hearts Without Boundaries founder Peter Chhun.

"They have few resources to get life-saving surgery and do not have a high quality of life," Matson said.

His goal is to raise $21,000, which he said would fund surgeries for seven children.

Matson will stop at hospitals and city halls along the way to promote his mission.

He won't be running alone, either.

Girlfriend and foundation co-founder Denise Zolla Pizzo will be driving their support vehicle and Matson will be carrying a plush toy, Diplo, the Diplomatic Penguin for kids and adults with CHD to sign

It will be gifted to Cambodia's Angkor Hospital for Children representing the U.S. CHD community in America.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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