I’m starting off this year with my heart and mind set on the goal of becoming a triathlete. I know I can ride the miles, I will power through the run, and I’ll train to finish the swim, yet my current reality is that I cannot even walk.
I had bunion surgery on my right foot on 11/25/15. Bunions are a bump on the side of the foot, at the base of the big toe. There are also tailor’s bunions, which are the same thing but at the base of the little toe. I have both. Bunions mostly affect women, and can form due to genetic reasons and/or improper footwear or activity throughout life.
I’ve had bunions ever since I can remember. My mom and both grandmothers had them as well, each with different severity. Though mine are genetic, I know I have made them worse by wearing shoes that were the wrong size. I have size 11 feet, which is above average for a woman. I have memories of my shoes being painful even as a kid, and the constant pressure on my toes probably pushed the bones out of alignment even more.
As a teenager, I lived in Mexico City, where the largest shoe you could find was a size 9, and even 10 was a rarity. I have memories of going to shoe stores and having to say my size out loud, and the store attendants would look at me in shock and say “That’s a man’s size,” and then look down at my feet as if they were something alien. When they saw the bunions their expressions got even nastier. I felt humiliated and angry; not at them (as I should have been), but at my feet for being so wrong.
I have been deeply ashamed of my feet for 30 years. I have hidden and ignored them, tortured them, and wished every day that they would be normal. I’ve become so accustomed with being in constant pain that I actually do not know how it feels to walk without it. I started running at age 26, and if walking pain is bad, running pain is even worse. After I finished my first half marathon, I convinced myself that I hated running and vowed never to run again.
I started cycling at age 29, and soon noticed that even in a low impact sport, my feet hurt. Cycling shoes are hard and narrow, and after thousands of revolutions, the bunion pain gets severe enough to cry.
I was done. I want to feel pain during races and climbs; I want the good pain, the fire in my quads, the power in my calves, the burning in my lungs. I want to be an athlete and I do not want bunion pain to hold me back.
That is why I finally decided to put my training on hold to get surgery on my worst foot. Below are X-rays of my right foot before and after the operation.
I’m almost six weeks post-op now and I am not yet allowed to put any weight on my right foot. For those of you that are brave, you can look at my foot’s before and after pictures here. The pictures show my foot before surgery, and then a weekly picture taken at each post-op appointment. I have not put any weight on it at all, and I think once I do the toes will begin to space out more. Though I’m not feeling much pain at all, it is not healing as quickly as I would like and I still have swelling. I thought by week 6 I would be walking already, but I learned at my last appointment that I probably won’t walk until after week 8. Then I still have an additional 4 weeks of wearing a special boot.
Every bunion surgery is different and every story I’ve read online has a different recovery process. My mom was fully healed from back-to-back surgeries in 3 months. Some people even walk out of the hospital. I think it will take me at least 3 months to heal just one, and knowing how long this recovery takes I will probably wait some time before I do my other foot because I really want to complete an Olympic triathlon this year.
So, I think of this as taking a small detour in my triathlon training. Yes, I will have to train to swim, bike, and run; but first you get to watch me learn to walk again.