Andrea has been coming into Sole Mechanics for years now, and is one of our favourite Osteopaths - we often recommend her to customers. Not only is she a Practitioner but she is also a Stick-fighting World Champion who is passionate about health and fitness, loves camping, hiking and the outdoors. She has a pretty incredible story to share and is a fantastic role model.
1. Tell us a bit about your story and how you got onto Vivobarefoot shoes? When/where did you discover Vivo?
I got onto Vivobarefoot shoes in 2013, when I was in the process of re-learning how to walk. In 2011 I recovered from the first, of what was to be 3 bouts of devastating and annihilating illness (over a 6 year period).
I was left with a form of paralysis in one of my legs (technically speaking, the condition is called lumbosacral plexopathy, which involved damage to the sciatic, femoral and obturator nerves).
Basically, I was not able to move my leg in any direction, with the nerves not connecting to the muscles. All myotomes were affected, so all kinds of movement were either extremely weak or non-existent (hip flexion/extension, hip abduction/adduction, knee flexion/extension, plantar and dorsiflexion, eversion and inversion of the ankle).
After my Neurologist made the diagnosis, I underwent extensive rehabilitation utilising multiple modalities, including Osteopathy, Nutritional therapy, Exercise Physiology and Physiotherapy rehabilitation.
I was told I would never walk normally again. Prior to this, I was a multiple World Champion in my field of Martial Arts (Full-contact Filipino Stick-fighting). I was determined to fight again, so not recovering was simply not an option to me.
Working alongside an Osteopathic Colleague in 2013, he suggested VIVOBAREFOOT shoes. His suggestion was in alignment with that of my Rehabilitation Physiotherapist as well. I have never looked back!
Along with losing the use of practically all muscle groups in my leg, I had also lost sensation in various dermatomes (multiple different patches of skin along my leg and foot had complete numbness or no sensation at all).
The sole of my foot had been numb for 26 months, to the point that I could step (while using my crutches, or later in the healing process when I could walk with a pronounced limp) on a sharp rock at the beach and cut my foot and not know about it.
After wearing VIVOBAREFOOT shoes and doing intensive rehabilitation on my leg, 2 hours per day for 35 months, I can remember feeling the sensation of pain on the sole of my foot for the first time – it was amazing!
2. Give us an overview of your fighting career and how Vivo’s have helped you in your training and competitions?
My debut in stickfighting happened on the world stage in Los Angeles in 2005. That year I lost to the eventual world title winner by just one point. In 2006, 2007 and 2009 I went on to win both single and double stick titles at the World Championships. I also won a couple of Australian Title fights and “Fight Nights” back in 2006 and 2007.
Then after regaining the ability to walk around March 2014 (walking on a flat surface, as walking downhill was a much longer process), I was determined to get back in the ring and fight again.
Wearing a pair of VIVOBAREFOOT shoes which I had purchased for myself, I flew to Adelaide in June 2014 to compete in my first tournament in 5 years – the Australasian Stickfighting Titles.
I competed in multiple fight categories (single stick, double stick and limited armour kulata bouts) against both male and female opponents. I managed to win most of my fights, coming home with 3 Gold and 1 Silver.
I then went on to fight at the World Championships in 2014 in Cebu City, Philippines. I won the Gold for single-stick fighting that year, silver for kulata and bronze for double stick-fighting.
Image: Andrea wearing a Vivobarefoot Orginal Style - THE EVO
Wearing VIVOBAREFOOT shoes made a huge difference in my ability to react quickly as a full-contact fighter. Martial artists’ are similar to ballet dancers and yoga practitioners, preferring to perform in bare feet.
With over 200,000 nerve receptors on the soles of our feet, wearing a 3mm sole allows me to move rapidly as I counter my opponent's moves and deliver my own strikes.
In Filipino Stickfighting my strike rate has been measured at 6.6 strikes per second (my record so far is delivering 53 strikes in 8 seconds). When moving this quickly, a fighter needs to feel assured on their feet, the brain needs the sensory feedback and one must be able to move quickly out of the way when the opponent aims at you.
I bounced back to hard training in 2019 and won another 3 World titles, coming home with 5 Gold medals, one silver and one bronze. My fight tally is now at 70 full-contact bouts and 10 world titles and I wouldn’t be where I am now without my Vivo’s. A few of my students also wear Vivo’s now, and two of them came home from the World Championships last year with 5 bronze medals between them.
3. What are some of your favourite things to do in your Vivo’s?
I absolutely love bushwalking and camping and being in nature, whether that is by the coast or on a mountain. I have developed quite a thing for hiking mountains since regaining the ability to walk. I frequently hike in the Grampians and Wilson’s Promontory. I also wear Vivo’s every day at work or heading out to meet friends. There are just so many styles to choose from and all of them give my leg the best set-up for continual recovery and in general assist my body with good biomechanics.
Andrea wearing Vivobarefoot while hiking
//SHOP PRIMUS TRAIL
4. As an Osteopath, why do you believe barefoot shoes are best? Why do you recommend them to your patients?
I am a huge believer in minimalist footwear, or natural bare feet because the brain needs the sensory feedback to allow for optimal proprioception and the foot needs to be able to function as naturally as possible, biomechanically speaking. This helps with the biomechanics of the whole body, not just the feet.
I like to recommend Vivo’s (or Bobux for Infants and Children) to my patients, especially for kids because their feet are developing, and the less between their foot and the ground the better the natural development of the 3 main arches of the feet (medial and lateral longitudinal arches and the anterior transverse arch). The arches in kids’ feet take 2-3 years to develop.
Basically, if you can visualise the twisted osteo-ligamentous plate of the foot, you can see how the longitudinal and transverse arches develop – it’s a biomechanical masterpiece and one that we don’t need to mess with by using pumped up heels and “sensory deprivation chambers” (referred to by one of my mentors, Phillip Beach, when speaking of thick-soled, narrow shoes).
The foot already has an incredible design with 26 bones and multiple ligaments and muscles which create stability, allow for mobility and absorb shock, but also conform to the uneven supporting surface. This design is adapted exclusively to serve the weight-bearing functions of the foot. The natural arches also dampen any superimposed rotations. By not being a single fixed arch, the foot has the advantage of distributing body weight throughout the foot depending on the location of the line of gravity at any given moment.
According to Phillip Beach, “we have a sensory platform devoted to the most vulnerable region of the low back” and that is the sensory nerves in the feet. Humans are the only truly bipedal creatures and for us to successfully walk in the upright position with such a long spine, we need as much sensory information as possible, travelling from our feet to our brains.
I often think of the elderly and fall prevention and consider this a key factor – being able to simply feel the ground and negotiate uneven or unexpected surfaces. I can’t tell you the number of times I prevented falling down myself during my recovery from nerve damage, simply because the shoes I was wearing (Vivo’s) allowed me to negotiate my terrain better than any other shoe I have ever tried.
5. What is your advice when transitioning into barefoot shoes? What are some positive changes you might see/feel after transitioning?
I recommend for kids to wear Vivo’s (or Bobux) as early as possible, or as soon as they are ready to wear shoes. For adults, it can be a slow process of transition.
For example, if I am treating a 35-year-old client who has worn thick-soled running shoes with arch support her entire life, I strongly suggest a very gradual transition.
Wearing thicker soles and relying on arch support changes and deconditions the natural structural integrity of the foot and it shortens our calf muscles and achilles.
Traditional shoes also encourage a heavier heel strike and a heel-toe running action, which is unnatural. I usually suggest a gradual transition, wearing the Vivo’s for around 2 hours per day, just around the house to begin with, then short walks, then eventually short runs.
By gradually building up a tolerance, the feet and their natural arches will re-condition over a period of around 3 months or longer, depending on the level of activity and recovery/rest time allowed.
Ultimately, once that transition has occurred, I find clients have less frequent lower back pain, less chance of tripping over randomly, increased running or athletic performance and one of the great things I hear my clients say is 'that when they get home at night, they no longer feel the desperate urge to rip off their shoes immediately'!
6. What is your favourite style of Vivo’s to wear and why?
I would have to say the Evo Pures, which are no longer made, was my absolute favourite shoe for fighting. Nowadays I like to wear the Primus Lite and at work, in summer I love the ballet slippers (jing-jings) and in winter I love my Gobi High-tops and my dusty pink desert boots!
Image: Andrea wearing Vivobarefoot Primus Lite in Black
//Shop Primus Lite
A big thanks to Andrea for sharing her story with us! If you want to keep up with her adventures and Stick-fighting competitions follow her on Instagram @master_andrea_wheatley