Interview: Sarah Kovac and Her "Too Right" Feet
Most people's feet are about as supple as a couple loaves of stale ciabatta. That thought kept popping into my head. When I looked it up, I found that ciabatta literally translates to "slipper" bread.
Unyielding feet have been around for a long time. So long, in fact, that as a species we've collectively forgotten how a foot was designed to look and move. Whether you are young or old, an athlete or a couch potato, a fashionista or wish every day was Pajama Friday, your feet likely have much in common with your fellow man. Namely, soreness, bunions, hammer toes, plantar fasciitis, bone spurs, flat arches, arthritis, neuropathy or all of the above. Worst of all, the solution is so simple: First, stop abusing those tired ole dogs and align them so that they can do their job properly; Second, require them to move. ALOT. In novel ways.
After trying to butter up numerous loaves of stale ciabatta this week, I began to think of feet as the foundation of a house, and to lament that so many people spend countless hours remodeling (so to speak) without addressing their crumbling foundation. I began to worry about poor investment strategies.
So I did what I always do when tortured by circular thinking of the sorry state of human wellness—torment my children. I interrupted two perfectly content 6-year-olds, flopped belly-down on the floor of the studio, rendering detailed drawings of future princess selves.
I said, "Girls, you are no longer allowed to draw. Unless, you do it with your feet."
"Draw with our FEET?", they cried.
"You betcha." I replied. "Come on, get that pencil between those toes, and get busy!"
At first it was hard to keep a firm grip on the pencil, but it took surprisingly little time to develop new motor skills. Soon we were moving less from the ankle and more from the toes. We were able to draw clunky little circles and a legible letter or two. It was like being sent back to preschool. We could write equally well with either the left or right foot—bonus! Despite the great progress we were making in foot dexterity, the kids began to protest.
"Will we EVER be allowed to draw with our hands again?"
"Nope. Never. Feet are the new hands." I declared.
So, I did what I always do when confronted with the possibility of mutiny, be it a refusal to brush teeth, wash hands, wear under pants, or most appalling, the refusal to substitute feet for hands in all daily tasks—I turned to the internet.
Meet my new friend, Sarah Kovac.
The two children and I picked our jaws off the floor after watching Sarah demonstrate how she writes, drives, plays the trumpet, curls her eyelashes, and diapers her baby WITH HER FEET. Click on the picture below to watch her crochet...
It's easy to mistake Sarah's foot dexterity as some skill she uses to entertain the masses of her YouTube fans, but the level of control she demonstrates comes from using her feet this way since infancy. Sarah had little choice, since she was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, which can affect any joints, but in Sarah's case affected her arms and hands. Out of necessity, Sarah's feet, not to mention her ankles, knees and hips developed to their full potential of healthful movement. We should take note, because not only are her feet as competent as hands, but her hip strength and range of motion is astounding, and its not something you get to see everyday. If we did, we'd be in better shape. It sparked my kids imaginations, for sure. They ran around for the rest of the day playing piano, opening cabinets and figuring out how to squeeze out a line of toothpaste with their feet.
What if Sarah had been forced to wear shoes all the time. Why, she'd be as limited as you or I. See where this is going? The problem for a population that no longer needs to challenge their foot and leg musculature is the prevalence of foot, knee, hip and back pain. Movement is our medicine. I messaged Sarah to find out how the health of her lower extremities measures up against the average person who thinks that everything below the knee should be crammed into a boot, and that the BOOTS are made for walkin'.
Sarah, my kids and I are trying to learn how to do more with our feet, will you help us?
Wow, it's rare that I see a parent encouraging children to use their feet. I love it! My son tries to do things like me at three years old, and I encourage it!
Do you have any of the problems of the lower extremities that plague so much of our society, such as bunions, varicose veins, plantar fasciitis, arthritis, neuropathy, shin splints, sciatica or fallen arches?
I've never so much as had a foot or leg cramp, no bunions or any other problem, and I have high arches.
We rarely have an opportunity to talk to someone who has very highly developed nerve signaling and processing in the lower extremities. Are you moving within the natural range of motion in the hips, knees, vertebrae, and ankles, or have some joints become hypermobile to accommodate your needs?
I enjoy a natural range of motion in my lower body. I do tend to have back pain when standing or walking for long periods (like an hour+), but I think that's simply because I spend most of my day sitting.
You are probably right, and you say in your video that sometimes your back hurts from the amount of flexion needed to reach your upper extremities with your foot, especially when you were pregnant.
What kind of shoes do super-duper feet prefer and why?
I rarely wear supportive shoes, as I'm most comfortable being barefoot. I love my Vibram toe shoes. They're as close to being shoeless as I can get, while protecting me from sharp rocks.
I love Vibram 5 fingers too! When you wear them, do they allow you to grasp things and pick them up as you normally would? I find the toes stiff. I have a shoe suggestion for you, by the way. Check out Sockwas. They don't have separated toes, but they afford absolutely unparalleled ground-feel.
Those do look comfortable! The Vibrams do allow me to do some things when it's cold out, like unlocking the garage door, while keeping them on. Very convenient in the cold winter! But yes, I do find them to be too stiff for much else.
The reason I ask about shoes, is that I've personally found since I've started retraining my feet, I am less able to tolerate them. That's with nerves just beginning to awaken. I would imagine that your feet would be super intolerant to stiff, clunky soles, tight toe boxes, and high heels, yes?
I do wear heels when I speak, but I am pretty picky about them, and always get the wide version as my toes like to have their space. No matter what shoes I'm wearing, however, they get kicked off the moment I'm indoors (unless in public) so I put up with uncomfortable shoes occasionally, as they won't be on long.
Hmmm, and then using your feet and toes so much serves to mitigate any negative impacts the shoes may have. In Restorative Exercise, we recommend 5 minutes of restoration work on the feet for every hour in a shoe. You far exceed that minimum.
You just finished a book typed entirely by toe. Will you tell us what it's about?
The book is called "In Capable Arms: Living a Life Embraced by Grace." It is a memoir. I wrote about some defining experiences for me, and what I've gleaned from them. I've been mistreated and gawked at, largely by well-meaning bystanders, but they've taught me a lot. I've learned that it's alright to be okay with my body, just the way it is. I've learned that I am the only one who knows when I've done my best. I've learned that my flaws are what keep me leaning on God and my fellow man. I've learned that I must grieve my loss. I suppose, in a nutshell, my book is a celebration of imperfection. An acknowledgement that our flaws might just be the key to fulfillment in life.It releases with Abingdon Press next September.
You can learn more about Sarah here http://facebook.com/sarahmkovac http://twitter.com/sarahkovac and http://www.SarahKovac.com
Thanks for taking time out on Thanksgiving to talk to us, Sarah! We'll keep you updated on our foot training progress.