by Anne Audain
In the world of weight loss folks have their “before and after” pictures. I have mine too but they are athletic in nature. What I learned from the first took me on a 13 year journey to the second, and a 22 year international career.
I was adopted at birth and when I began to walk my parents noticed I didn’t have the normal “heel-toe’ motion. I walked very pigeon toed and rolled onto the outside of my feet.
Doctors at that time didn’t have an answer and said they would wait to see how I developed. Fast forward and they discovered that I had bone deformities of my big toes, like enormous bunions, that were causing me pain so that I would not get up on the front of my feet. Wearing shoes was very painful but thankfully the New Zealand climate, where I grew up, was mild and I could frequently go barefoot.
The doctors told my parents they would not consider surgery until my bones were strong enough to heal correctly and give me the best chance to have a better gait. They gave instructions to feed me well and get me to drink milk for the calcium, which was no problem as I loved it.
At age 13 years, a month before I was due to begin high school, the surgery was done. They didn’t promise miracles but were pleased with their work. The greatest gift they gave me, but it caused tremendous pain and discomfort at the time, was to not give me crutches or a wheelchair. As you can see by the picture taken of me on my first day of high school, I have plaster casts on both legs and two black boots. Those boots have a wooden rocker on the bottom. The surgeons idea was that as my feet healed the rockers would force me forward and give me the “heel-toe” motion.
I was in the casts for 6 months and when they came off I had two normal looking feet. However the work was just beginning. Through physical therapy I learned the difference between good pain and bad pain. I needed to push through pain to get them stronger but had to back off when I had overdone it.
One year after surgery I told my parents I wanted to join the local track and field club like all my school and neighborhood friends. They were skeptical but the doctors were supportive. Fortunately in that era all the tracks were grass so I could go barefoot. There weren’t many running shoe options anyway.
The doctor’s advice: ”run in the nearest thing possible to bare feet”! Their theory was that this would allow my feet to function normally without restrictions. For the next 22 years I trained and raced in racing flats, the lightest and most flexible.
Good Pain and Bad Pain
Due to knowing the difference between “good pain and bad pain”, I wasn’t scared to take rest days. I made sure I received consistent physical therapy and massage for injury prevention. Both my coaches believed in hill workouts which helped my feet tremendously.
Other advice from the doctors was to keep “meat on my bones,” that I shouldn’t ever get too thin. My second coach John Davies used to get me to put on 5-6 pounds at the end of each season, when I took a month’s break, so that when I began the hard training again I would have something to work off.
I never suffered a running related injury during my 22 years of international competition, which resulted in me having a consistent winning record. I learned a lot going through a tough period in my life that resulted in a lot of joy eventually! At age 62 years, I still do all the same things, the hill workouts and the physical care just to keep my feet strong so that I can still run.
In last year I have had 2 running falls on trails resulting in arthroscopic knee surgery for torn meniscus and pins in broken fingers in hand. I have fully recovered due to lessons learned from the past!