The photo above accurately shows my feet. These are the feet — albeit slightly larger versions — that I’ve lived with since I was 3 years old. At that time, I lived on a farm 30 miles outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. We used a skid loader (Bobcat) for various tasks on the farm. I was a curious kid and liked to work with Dad as much as I could, and I would often follow him around. On one particular day he let me sit on his lap while he operated the Bobcat. Unfortunately, during the course of my ride that day with my Dad, I happened to stick my right foot out as my Dad was lowering the arm of the bucket. My foot got smashed between the tractor body and the arm, literally changing the course of my life. It’s dramatic to say it in that context, but it really did.
I don’t remember any pain or even the trauma of the event. I remember being in the back of the station wagon on the way to the hospital, but that’s about it.The doctors did an amazing job considering what they were working with. They ended up removing a toe and used the “parts” — or so I’m told. They did skin grafts from my upper thigh to help cover the foot in skin. They stuck pins in my foot to hold things in place. And they probably worked some voodoo magic.
There are a number of things I’ve observed and learned about my foot and myself over the course of my life.
The foot doesn’t work very well. The “big” toe serves no function beyond partially filling up my sock. It doesn’t hold any weight and it didn’t grow to keep up with the rest of the foot. I essentially have three toes … not the ones known for aiding in balancing. The ball of my foot takes the biggest brunt of the weight as I walk, run, and jump. Therefore, it is calloused and tough. But it wasn’t made for the kind of beating it gets, so that’s the part that is most often sore. Like daily. Like I feel pain every step I take. I’ve often wondered if I should just cut the whole foot off and go all Oscar Pistorius on everyone — no, not the “kill your girlfriend” Oscar Pistorius, but bionic athlete Oscar Pistorius. But I can’t imagine ever really getting to the point where I’d seriously consider it.
It’s all I’ve known my whole life, so I’ve learned to adapt and deal with it. In many cases, this was a real blessing that it happened at young age. I didn’t have a life that needed some serious adaptation to fit a new deformity. Because it’s all I’ve known, I don’t have a good sense of what normal would feel like, so I don’t really complain about the foot very often.
It’s been a true humbling event in my life and kept me in check. I remember an occasion in 7th grade when our PE class was preparing to go swimming as part of the class curriculum. One kid in my class saw my foot and said, “I have to go swimming with that vegetable?” I knew the kid, we were friends, and he wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but I still remember the comment. I think from that point on I was more serious about hiding the deformity. In my family, we called my foot the “alien foot.” I would say something about my foot hurting for whatever reason and the response would be, “Your alien foot?” It wasn’t ever said in derision, but it’s just the way it was. If part of your body is labeled “vegetable” or “alien,” it would take a real level of confidence to brush that off and not be incredibly humbled by those experiences. I’ve learned that I don’t like to admit weakness (professionally, socially, physically, etc.) and I wonder if my foot helped form that trait.
I’ve spent a lifetime trying to hide my deformity … and I’ve gotten really good at it. Which is silly. I don’t like that I feel self-conscious enough that I want or need to hide my foot. I can go swimming, take community showers (I’m talking PE or the gym, folks!), scuba dive, go to the beach, etc., without people really even noticing. That is partially because people don’t naturally look at people’s feet (unless you’re Rex Ryan’s wife …). The other reason is because I have an uncanny skill at hiding this fella.
It has definitely limited my athletic pursuits and abilities. Think about it … if you only had roughly half your foot, how exactly is your calf muscle supposed to develop? Think you can grow calf muscles on a stump? They don’t get used as much on a stump as they would on a foot that causes the muscle to flex. I’m left handed, which means my best shot in basketball should be a left-handed layup. However, I don’t have any explosion from my right leg and can’t elevate very well, so it’s not my best shot. Just a few weeks ago I was invited to play basketball with a group of guys on a Friday morning. They play full-court basketball for two full hours. However, I was slated to run a 5K on Saturday morning and I had to admit to the guy that I can’t do both on successive days because this foot also makes running difficult. I’ve made tremendous strides in the last year in my running ability. At this point, a 3 or 4 mile run is the farthest I can take things because the beating is sufficient that it just makes it difficult to continue. It ain’t my legs, heart, or lungs that cause the problem … it’s the foot.
It has definitely limited my recreational pursuits and abilities. I like to mountain bike but can’t get clip-in bike shoes because I’d have to buy two sizes of shoes, and I’m too cheap to do that. Instead, I bought the simple slide-in toe clips that cover the toe of your shoe. I can hike farther than I can run, but the pain is the same. I think I’ve “put up” with a lot of hikes in my life — not because I don’t like the euphoria of bagging a peak, but because it just hurts too much to do it very often. I don’t do water sports very well (skiing, wakeboarding, etc.) because I totally avoided all opportunities to learn or participate as a teenager and college student due to my foot. My wife and kids love boating and I’d like to support them, but I suck so bad at that stuff that it’s just embarrassing for me now.
However, I can still be active. I played three sports at various points in high school, and then continued to play intramural flag football and basketball in college, as well as city-league softball for a number of years. I’ve done 50+ mile hikes with my Boy Scout troops. I’ve hiked Grandeur Peak in SLC 6 times in the last 7 years, always ending the hike just absolutely limping. I’ve run three (timed) 5Ks in my life (4th one this weekend!). Being able to run a 5K was a major mental and physical breakthrough for me and I haven’t really been able to figure out a way to run longer without killing my foot. I’m going to work on combinations of shoes, insoles, running techniques, and a whole lot of “cowboy up” to see if I can do more.
I can’t wait for heaven to get the whole thing back. My wife and I have joked so many times about how cool it will be to get to heaven, be resurrected, and, per LDS theology, have everything restored to it’s proper frame and function (see verses 42-44). At that point, I’ll be able to wear flip flops — in public. How cool will that be? (If I’m not using my amazing God-like powers to float through the air, that is.)