When I heard Cyndi gasp, I was hoping she’d finally noticed my sculpted quads, but no, she was reacting to my feet. They weren’t doing well. My arches, such as they were, had dropped, and my ankle bones were tilting inward. She wasn’t proud, as I’d hoped, but worried.
I should have known. Cyndi’s concern over my feet goes way, way back. In fact, I once wrote about a potential conversation where I quoted what Cyndi might’ve said: "I've been embarrassed by your feet ever since I saw them the first time. Good thing you didn't wear sandals while we were dating, or I might never have married you."
The fact is, I’ve had flat feet my entire life. I never paid attention until I started running in 1978, and even then, not until I decided to replace my Stan Smith Adidas tennis shoes – leather with zero cushioning – with a pair of real running shoes. When I did my shoe research I learned how to tell if I had high arches or low arches. It wasn’t hard to decide.
However, those flat feet served me through nine marathons and over 37,000 miles of running. Nowadays my feet seem to be entering a new chapter of life, a common story with all the rest of my body parts since turning 60, where pieces and abilities wilt and crash regularly. I’ve had to do more research and relearning to keep up and keep moving.
At the time of Cyndi’s gasp, I was in her studio where she was thrashing me on a Pilates reformer machine under the guise of developing her teaching skills. She usually takes an obtuse direction when trying to change my life knowing how I stubborn-up when confronted directly, but this time there was nothing subtle in her approach. She took charge and set me up with Chris, one of her yoga patrons, an experienced physical therapist, and a fellow cyclist. Chris wrapped my feet with about one hundred feet of two different kinds of tape (Leukotape, and something called Cover-Roll, designed to protect skin from Leukotape). She even showed me how to do it myself. She was great, and my feet felt better right away when I walked around.
She also suggested arch supports for all my shoes. “Start small and work your way up. It takes time to retrain muscles and bones,” she said.
I started taping-and-arch-supporting right away, satisfied with my progress and process. I’m always happier when I have a diagnosis and a plan.
That is, I was happy until I decided to replace the tape which was looking gnarly and ragged. As I pulled it off, I noticed the places where I’d pulled skin off, and even one blister on my heel. I hadn’t noticed the damage before, and none of it hurt until I saw it, then the pain started.
While I inspected for more damage, I noticed a series of deep blisters on the bottom of both feet, apparently from the overly-ambitious arch supports I had been using.
I’ve been accused often of trying to do too much too soon, of thinking the regular rules didn’t apply to me and I could do things my own way. Apparently, in this case, I was trying to repair something quickly that took a lifetime to develop. I was too aggressive with tape and arch supports and my feet paid the price.
Cyndi, who still hadn’t caught her breath from that first glance at my ankles in the Pilates room, was nice about it this time. She even showed appropriate sorrow and concern over my plight.
So I decided to leave my feet alone long enough for the skin to heal and blisters to calm down. The pause would give me a few days to ponder my habit of solving everything myself, often to my own discomfort.
And then, Thursday morning, the same day I planned to leave town for the weekend, I felt a hard knot under the ball of my right foot, and thought, what have I done to make this even worse. But when I sat down and looked closely at my foot, I discovered a penny stuck to the skin. The good news: my new problem was imaginary. The bad news: I had already started making plans for a new round of treatment. Sometimes I’m so smart, so intentional, so in-tune, I trick myself and make a big mess.
I once had a close friend warn about my tendency to solve problems using my own strength of will. He said: Berry, you have the ability to figure out what has to happen, and that's where you have to be really careful. Because you can figure things out, there is a tendency to place God in the situation out of courtesy, but He doesn't really need to be there.” I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, but in the years following I’ve seen his warning play out in my life over and over. Bummer.
Now, a week after pulling off the tape and skin, and three weeks after first frightening Cyndi, I’m ready to start over. I’m back home from my weekend away, a Noble Heart retreat near Ann Arbor, MI, where I never thought of my feet even once – well, except when going for a trail walk in the snow. That out-of-mindedness lasted until Cyndi asked how I was doing. “It’s time to resume treatment,” I said. “I’ll be more patient this time.”
“I love you, Berry,” She said, even with the we’ll-see-about-that look in her eyes.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32