After undergoing back surgery and suffering from arthritis of the knee, doctors told retired Army officer and physical therapist Sandra Elliott that she’d never be able to run again.
Now at age 50, Elliott’s proved them wrong, successfully completing and placing in several 5K races.
She attributes her success to an increasingly popular fitness trend — natural, or “minimalist,” running.
“The first time I put on the minimalist shoes and tried to run, I realized that, for the first time in so long, I actually could,” she said. “To me, it was miraculous, and it made me want to help other people have the same epiphany I had, to help them say, ‘Wow, I couldn’t run, and now I can.’”
In her quest to educate others about the benefits of natural running, Elliott and her husband, Ron, have opened Georgia Game Changers Running Company, a fitness store that specializes in minimalist shoes, high-end athletic gear and sports medicine.
Minimalist shoes are designed to force a runner off the heels and onto the middle of the foot. Many, like the ubiquitous, toe-separating Vibram FiveFingers shoes, simulate the feel of running barefoot but protect the soles of the feet.
“Natural running shoes and form allow you to run in a more midfoot way, to shorten your stride and allow your body to naturally be a shock absorber instead of using your knees and lower back and heels,” explained Stephen Pifer, a 2012 Olympic Track & Field Trials semi-finalist and the store’s technical representative from Newton Running brand.
The Elliotts kicked off the store’s opening with two free natural running form clinics on Thursday and Friday. Pifer led the clinics, teaching runners how to improve their stride, cadence and posture.
He said his best piece of advice for runners looking to change or improve their running stride is to start small.
“Everything is a work in progress, and you want to start slowly and add a little bit more every day. Don’t do too much too quick.”
Elliott said Game Changers will continue to hold free clinics and will also help runners create individualized training programs.
“As a physical therapist-owned running store, we really want to be about transforming people’s fitness and making a difference in their lives,” said Elliott. “I want to take what I know as a therapist and use the store as a way to educate and help people improve their health. My primary goal is for this store to be what the community needs it to be.”
Game Changers Running Company is in the Kroger complex next to Jalapenos Mexican Grill. It’s open from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit www.georgiagamechangers.com or email Sandra@georgiagamechangers.com.