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Friday, July 8, 2011

Fan Friday: Josh Maciel's Barefoot Recovery

Well folks, it's that time again!  Time for another fantastic story from one of you!  Today's featured barefooter is Josh Maciel, a 21-year old EMT and Parkour enthusiast from Tampa, FL.  Josh's story isn't so much about the transformative effects of barefoot running so much as it is about the benefits of incorporating barefooting into your everyday life.  For him, it didn't just allow him to do his favorite things for the first time without pain, but it also led to a pretty remarkable recovery from a serious injury.  Read up to learn more!

Give me a little background about yourself Josh.

"Well growing up I was always very interested in sports and martial arts. I started out around 4 playing soccer and doing karate and I loved every time I did them. Around this growing stage I was diagnosed with flat feet and was prescribed orthotics at around age 7, yet I didn't have any foot pain. I went on later to do judo as well but by age 13 my sports background just stopped and my feet hurt like hell. I get to high school ditch the orthotics and play one year of football then after freshman year I learn about Parkour and it became my passion."

For those unfamiliar with the sport of Parkour, it is similar to "free running" where a person uses the surrounding landscape to perform tricks and other creative movements. The focus of Parkour is more on traversing a series of obstacles in the safest, and most efficient way possible.

 What kind of shoes were you using for Parkour?

I started out using heavy Merrel hiking shoes for the grip then moved to a Parkour specific shoe when it became more popular.  This is the shoe that had an orthotic sole. Then recently when I started again I just bought something that had good cushioning, was flat, had good grip and was snug."

How did you get interested in barefooting?

"While doing Parkour in those shoes my feet started to hurt really bad and my knees started to hurt. So what did I do? I went and got orthotics again just for my Parkour specific shoes and just wore arch supports for my school shoes.

Then junior year I got with this one girl I was kinda crazy about (oh god I hate this immaturity...sad to see I was there haha). I stop doing parkour and I got fat and lazy. This is the part of my life I look back to and regret I ever stopped doing parkour. I wasn't as happy anymore but I felt beaten by the weight I tacked on and how out of shape I was.

Well 2 years [after becoming an EMT] I got down to 210lbs (I'm 5'10) and I start parkour again after hanging out with my old friends one day. After this I go and decide to learn how to start tricking and doing flips to mix in with my parkour. I went about learning backflips on a trampoline and I find out I got them down pretty quickly and just loved to do them after that.

Couple days after learning that stuff, I went to a charity event and decide to start running at the event to get my cardio up for parkour. Well during this time short my knees start to hurt a little. But then I remember my dad showing me a video from Science Channel about a tribe of "super athletes" in which all members of the tribe run in home made sandals or completely barefoot. I watched the video again and really looked at their stride closely. I saw that their steps were so much shorter and quicker, so I try this in shoes. It felt so much better and less clunky. Then I tried it for a little while just in my socks and still felt great!

I then decide it was a good idea to do a backflip in the grass. Well I untucked too late and slammed my right heel into the ground and fracture it right where a ligament attaches to the posterior malleous (low back part of the tibia)."

Yikes! So what happened to you?

"I went to the ER and they told me I fractured my ankle on the posterior mallelous but I wasn't going to need surgery, but they recommend I go to the orthopedist. So I go there and they take more xrays and they tell me I'm going to need surgery to repair it, and that I wouldn't be able to walk for about 3 months after surgery."

Well, Josh did go through with the surgery. But instead of taking it easy and staying off his foot for three months, he decided to take off the boot protecting his foot and start exercising barefoot.

So your interest in barefooting started as a result of your injury?

"This is how I especially got sparked into BF running. I picked up Born to Run as I sat at home unable to work. After being cleared by the doctor I returned to work in a boot. And instead of working in the field, I got promoted to dispatching ambulances from a desk. I love that a lot better haha!"

So why did you decide to go barefoot after having surgery?

"I had my surgery, and as soon as I got out of the splint and into a boot (about 1 month later) I started working hard on getting my ankle strength and flexibility back. I start taking a lot of joint supplements and taking 4 Men's OneADays a day. 1-2 weeks after getting my boot I started walking in the boot. It felt great to get rid of the crutches for short walks around the house. I keep working on the flexibility and some strengthening exercises. Less than a week after walking in the boot I figure out I can walk without the boot. I took a few barefoot steps a day (or limps more like it).

I wore my boot frequently around the house, and just started not wearing it when I went to work. But I brought it just in case. I also figured that walking barefoot would help build my fallen arch up again. I didn't really think that it would make the bone heal quicker, but I thought it would get my foot stronger quicker."

What did your doctor say about that?

"I took what the doctor told me and pretty much threw it out the window. I just figured that if these doctor's methodology revolved around shoes...well take the shoes out of the picture and you have a new method. I pretty much went on the fly with whatever I felt I good do. If I felt any pain I would stop."

Sounds like a plan that I would recommend. What results have you had so far?

Currently I still wear my boot occasionally just to let my foot rest and not overdo it. But when I go out I'm either barefoot or in my Vibram Fivefingers. I feel amazing! I actually do some running with minimal limp. I also just bought a mountain bike to work on my cardio and also figured its a great "crutch" to get some weight off my right foot while still working it out. I also just started rock climbing again. My ankle has been holding up extremely well there. Each time I've gone it felt stronger and I felt more confidence in traversing the walls.

Right now I'm just about 2-3 months ahead of scheduled as far as healing. I would say though I have about 80% strength in my ankle and foot if I compare it to my other. I have my final xray on July 13th so we will see if my gamble of sorts paid off.

All I know, is that being barefoot has helped me out tremedously in my recovery and I'm so glad I have found it. It has truly changed me. I really believe that running and walking barefoot can help lessen injuries and in my case bounce back sooner from strengthening."

That's really incredible stuff. Will you continue to run barefoot once your foot finally heals?

"I'm actually starting to train for a Tougher Mudder run in Decemeber. I know my feet will not be ready to run the full 12 miles, but I'll walk if I have to. Its for a good cause and I'm trying to get my company into it. I'm just trying to keep from getting pain.

I actually got my first very slight hint of pain today around where my fracture was so I'm stopping my incredibly short runs for awhile and just riding my bike hard. At this rate though, I should be good to start running short distances barefoot in about a month. But it's not a goal, just a projection and its ultimately up to my body."

I think that's a great attitude.  Thanks so much for sharing your story Josh! 

I asked Josh to share his story because I think his recovery is nothing short of amazing.  I think had he listened to the doctors about his foot, he'd probably wouldn't be walking normally today.  He'd likely still be in a support of some kind.  Had he continued to listen to them, he'd probably have been forced back into those orthodics, and continue to cover up the same problems with his feet that likely contributed to his injury in the first place.  He might have even found himself with a similar injury later in life.  I'm glad he went with what felt right to him, and made sense to him in his head. 

Of course, Josh's story is one of the more incredible ones with respect to the healing power of barefooting.  But I think the benefits of barefooting can be as simple as just not having as much chronic pain throughout the day.  Take a tip from Josh, and work in a little barefoot exercise; keeping in mind as he did to be mindful of the feedback from your body.  You'll be surprised at how good you feel! 

If you'd like to share your story for Fan Friday, you can email me at saypay45@gmail.com.  Don't think for a minute that your story isn't worth sharing!  Everyone has something important to contribute.  Happy barefooting citizens!   


  1. Wow that is an incredible story!!!!!! I love, love bf running! Too bad I keep signing up for races I can't bf in!

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