Meet My New Friend: Interview With Barefoot Wendy

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barefoot wendyA few weeks ago, I attended an awesome kettlebell workshop in Toronto.

(Always looking to improve that technique!)

At the workshop, I got a chance to meet some really cool people. It’s not often I get a chance to chat and sit around with people who share the same love for kettlebells and kettlebell training.

That’s where I met Wendy.

Wendy seemed like the typical fitness enthusiast. She was there like the rest of us – looking to broaden her knowledge of kettlebell training so she can share it with her clients back in her hometown in Prince Edward Island.

But there was something about Wendy that definitely caught my attention.

Something that I have come to envy…

As we broke out for lunch on our first workshop day, a few of us headed out to the nearby convenience store to grab some food. It was a chilly day. The winds were blowing and the temperature was dropping. Wendy led the way. Only something was odd.

She had no shoes!

That’s when I learned that Wendy is a barefoot-ist. Wherever she goes, she is barefoot.

Being the primal/minimalist enthusiast that I am, I thought it was absolutely amazing that somebody would take things to this level. I’ve definitely heard of barefootism or footwear minimalism and I’m a huge fan of Vibrams, but I’ve never had the opportunity to meet someone who likes to leave their shoes at home.

I wanted to learn what drove Wendy to this way of life.

So I decided to ask her a few questions:

Me: Wendy, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do for a living.

Wendy: Well, this is always a bit of a challenging question for me. Just what should i share? I grew up in Cape Breton, so i am a rural girl at heart with salt water in my veins, but i’ve lived in 4 provinces and did a two year stint in the US as well. Forever transient it seems. I currently live in PEI where my 9 year residency marks the longest i’ve lived anywhere in my adult years.

I originally studied and worked in the field of clinical psychology, completing my undergrad studies at Acadia and attending U of Manitoba for graduate school. I’ve been fortunate to work with many incredible youth and colleagues over the years in the field of psychological services, including some overseas work with an international child caring organization.

I am blessed with a long, fulfilling relationship with my partner in love and life, and we have three girls, one of whom we fostered from age 11 and adopted at age 13. I birthed the other two girls at home and I’d have to say that the homebirthing of the first, in the ‘80’s, was the most life changing event i’ve experienced so far in my 54+ years on this earth.

I retired from that first career about 12 years ago as an overweight, deconditioned, heavy smoking individual. After a year of ‘retirement’ I underwent my physical transformation. I quit smoking, cleaned up what went on my plate, and began moving my tired, sorry arse. Never one to half do anything, I joined a gym and three months later competed in my first mini-triathlon. That was another empowering, and pivotal life event. From there, I returned to studies and jumped into this amazing field of fitness, first as a personal trainer. Now I own and operate a health & fitness studio in Charlottetown, PEI

Me: What are you truly passionate about? What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning?

Wendy: Without trying to sound trite, I am passionate about this moment. Yes, this moment right here. Right now. It is the only thing I have, that you have, that anyone has. We are here, together, in this same moment and we can choose to be mindful of that or we can lose our only opportunity to live big and full and right. And, every day I have opportunity to laugh at myself.

Me: What are your philosophies on optimal health, fitness, and nutrition?

Wendy: Optimal health, fitness and nutrition, like life, are processes, not end points. They consist of making choices which are at once conscious, creative and disciplined.

In order to create a life so full and healthy, mindfulness is integral to the process. In fact, a mindfulness practice is a most gentle and effective vehicle for creating wellness.

When we bring wakefulness, mindfulness, intention, purpose, compassion and kindness – kindness to ourselves and others – into our lives, magic truly happens. In mostly gentle ways, I try to share these principles of living with the people who are in my life – family, friends, clients, acquaintances and strangers.

Me: I know you’re a big fan of kettlebells and that you offer a variety of kettlebell training classes in your studio. What is it about this fitness tool that you find so powerful? What draws you to the kettlebell?

Wendy: Wow. It has been a 7 year infatuation with these cast iron buggers.

In 2005 I came upon a magazine article featuring Andrea DuCane using kettlebells and became a bit obsessed. I’m not entirely sure why. It took until  early 2006 for me to track down a reasonable source and I purchased my first three kettlebells. I started training using Pavel Tsatsouline’s books and then began training a client. Eventually I tracked down a certification program in Canada and began teaching group classes in January 2008. I have since led more than 1700 group kettlebell programs/classes/workshops.

A kettlebell is an incredibly versatile tool.  Endurance, strength, power: all there in the kettlebell. Flexibility, balance, conditioning: all there in the kettlebell. Ballistic movements, focused rock-solid grounded stability, grace in motion: all there in the kettlebell.

I love the simplicity of the tool. I appreciate how kind it is to joints and connective tissues. I am always wowed by the fierceness of a kettlebell workout and I am regularly and perpetually astounded by how proper coaching and use of a kettlebell creates fitness rockstars.

So, kettlebell training fits well with the principles, or philosophies, I mentioned above. It demands mindfulness. It requires that you be awake and that you train with discipline and intentionality.

I am a Shambhala Buddhist. Kettlebell work, Buddhist mediation, yoga (which I practice as both a student and a teacher), and karate (of which I am a student) all complement each other. They are all the same stuff, if you will, demanding courage, practice, orderliness, and self-mastery.

Me: Wendy, when I met you, one of the first things that caught my attention was the fact that you’re always barefoot. When and why did you throw away your shoes and incorporate barefoot-ism into your life?

Wendy: So, the why first. Being barefoot fits, for me, with living my life with intention, in an awake and compassionate way. That’s the primary reason.

Most of my work in the fitness field has been barefoot – teaching yoga, kettlebell training, post-rehab work in a pool. That, combined with the fact that I have always been barefoot in my home, meant I lived a good deal of the time without footwear. However, it was never with a precise consciousness. I spent decades never questioning why I stuffed my dear toes into pretty but uncomfortable foot caves.

I run. Well, I sometimes run. A few years ago, when I was still shod, I was training for a 10k. I was having problems with my tibialis anterior and had to have weekly acupuncture in order to maintain my training schedule. I completed the 10k, but one day not long after the race event, I was out on a run and experiencing the same old tib ant problem. I was about a kilometre from home when I was possessed by who knows what. Whatever it was, I stopped, took off my much beloved asics and socks and ran the rest of the way home barefoot.

That was it – the end of my long relationship with regular footwear and the beginning of something really good for me.

Me: What benefits do you find from being barefoot all the time?

Wendy: First off, no more tibialis anterior problems. Not ever! Not even when I trained barefoot for the same 10k event in the year following my asics run. That would be benefit enough, yes?

I feel more connection to my environment, grounded, if you will. I believe my balance and stability have improved. I know muscle tone in my feet has improved and my calves have both elongated and strengthened. My once flat arches have improved slightly, and I never, ever end my day with sore feet.

Mostly, I like how it brings greater mindfulness to my movement in the world. I am aware of where I put my feet all the time. I am aware of textures and temperatures underfoot and love to explore new surfaces. Really, I know so much more about my world through my soles and experience a sense of liberation when my feet are bare.

Me: What advice would you give to those of us who are looking to incorporate kettlebells and barefoot-ism into our lives?

Wendy: I am not terribly prone to offering advice.  However, the key points I like to share are: know that your body and spirit are intelligent, live your life with intention, make a daily commitment to integrity, initiate a daily practice of compassionate kindness for yourself first and then for others, choose to live with quiet intensity, practice introspection, and introduce joy, pleasure, laughter and humour into your being. Kettlebells and bare feet are individually powerful tools for enriching anyone’s life. Together, they might shake your world.

Me: Wendy, thanks so much for sharing your story. I look forward to seeing you at our next kettlebell workshop. Is there anything you’d like to leave us with?

Wendy: Thanks for giving me this opportunity Srdjan. I hope your readers find some kernel of interest or usefulness here. Kettlebells . Bare feet. Try both today!

.

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I’d like to send a huge thank you to Wendy for sharing her amazing story. If you’d like to find out my about Wendy, you can find her on her website at The Whole Way. And if you’re in PEI, definitely check out one of her classes.

If you guys have any questions for Wendy or comments on the barefoot lifestyle or kettlebell training, feel free to share them below!

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Comments

  1. Srdjan,

    Great interview. Kettlebells rock and going 100% barefoot seems incredible! I’m sure not many people will go that far, but it’s great that the foot problems went away for Wendy. I’ll stick to my Vibrams for now.

    Alykhan

    • hey Alykhan.

      while 100% barefoot isn’t for everyone, there are an amazing number of us out here.

      i have vff’s also and wear them rarely. i also have a pair of huaraches and prefer them to the vff’s if it is necessary to put something on my feet.

      the vff’s do allow for better mechanical operating of foot musculature than traditional footwear does, for sure. it is awesome that you enjoy them.

    • It’s actually quite surprising how many people there are who have gone 100% barefoot. I’m not sure I could ever do it (especially in a cold Canadian climate), but I’d like to get to a point where I can where my Vibrams all the time!

  2. Wow found this interview challenging – in a good way! I love the idea of going barefoot all the time, and can understand Wendy’s reasons; about feeling more connected, aware of your environment and also ‘living in the present moment’.

    I think I’ll try to go barefoot more often in the areas of my life that allow for it (like at home), and am hopefully getting some Vibrams for Christmas. Wendy do you find some places are funny about you being barefoot, like retail stores, cafes, etc.? I don’t think my employer would be too understanding ;)

    • hi Paul.

      i’m glad to hear you’ll give some amount of barefooting a go. at home is a great place to experiment and in spring/summer venture into your garden unshod a bit in order to more truly appreciate this amazing world.

      i have had a mix of odd reactions over the years, including being refused service in some retail shops. sometimes these situations can be easily resolved and other times not so. there has also been no shortage of people who feel compelled to share their reactive opinion of me and/or my barefooting with me.

      on the other hand, i also get quite a bit of positive reaction, both supportive and out of curiosity. when people notice i am barefoot, there is usually an overt or covert reaction of some sort, particularly if the weather is inclement.

      i have blogged some of my barefoot experiences, Paul. if you’re interested, this post has, at the end, a couple of different reactions i had within minutes of each other.
      http://thewholeway.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/barefoot-this-week-a-tale-of-two-cities/

      here’s to the granting of your christmas wishes!

      wendy

  3. Hey Srdjan, great interview with Wendy. She really turned her life around for the better and is now going strong. Love those inspirational stories. Not sure about going barefoot in Canada though as I have a cousin there and he is always telling me how cold it is. Barefoot here in Oz where I live, is second nature for a lot of people, especially around your house/yard and at the beach, as the climate really lends itself to it. I have just started wearing my new Vibrams for long walks and I love them. Feels like barefoot but with protection, but my wife and kids are a little embarrassed to be seen with me wearing them. Nearly 50 and going caveman, much to everyone’s surprise. Love the food and I love my kettlebells, and blogs like yours keeps me informed and motivated. Thanks for the good work and look forward to reading more in 2013. Cheers. Jim

    • Thanks for your comment Jim! It’s definitely easier to adopt a barefoot lifestyle in warmer climates and it’s cool to see that you’re taking advantage of it. When it comes to the look, I stopped caring about what other people think a long time ago. I think they look awesome and, more importantly, they feel great.

      And it’s never too late to go caveman style :)

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