There was once a time in Sandra Elliot’s life when running — her favorite form of exercise — was nearly impossible due to numbing pain in her legs and back. She underwent back surgery in 2006 following her service in the Army but said she still felt helpless and defeated by the immobilizing pain that kept her from doing the things she loved.
Despite her physical limitations, Elliot continued working for the Army as a physical therapist, hoping to make a difference in soldiers’ lives. Little did she know, one patient would make a difference in hers that would fan the flames of a career path Elliot never thought possible.
“One of my patients had had an injury down range and needed surgery. As he rehabbed, he said he couldn’t wait to get back into these particular types of shoes,” said Elliot. “He told me about ‘five-finger’ running shoes and when he finally got back to running, he said he felt so much better. That’s when I thought to myself, ‘OK, I need to check this out.’”
Elliot did her own research before taking the plunge, but from the first day she tried on a pair of the Vibram Five Finger shoes, the physical therapist said she was hooked.
“The typical running shoe has about 10-12mm of what we call ‘drop,’” Elliot explained. “That’s the difference in elevation between the heel and the toe. The shoes we have here (at Georgia Game Changers Running Company) have a much lower ramp angle, about 6-8mm drop and range down to 0.
“Research shows that by lowering that ramp angle, people naturally strike their foot differently when they hit the ground.”
Amazed by her own transformation and convinced there were others like her that could also benefit from switching to five-finger, or minimalist, shoes, Elliot took opened Georgia Game Changers Running Company in July of 2012 with her husband Ron Elliot, an avid runner himself.
“When I got here (to Richmond Hill) I saw that there was a need. There was only one running store in town, Fleet Feet, and I saw that there was a need for a different mindset,” Elliot said. “I saw what the shoes could do for me, and from doing the research I could see that there was actually a possibility that these shoes could help even more people. That’s when I decided that maybe I could help get them out of the mindset that ‘I can’t’ because I know that’s how I was for six years.”
This different mindset has made Georgia Game Changers a running staple in Richmond Hill, and it’s one of the only running outfitters that provides an education-focused experience — an experience Elliot said she hopes won’t just sell shoes but will also convert people to a new way of running.
“When you transition immediately from a heavily cushioned shoe to a 0-drop shoe, the tissues in your body have to adjust, so it takes time,” Elliot said of the concerns some of her customers have when they come into her store.
“That’s where the education part comes in and that’s where I think we’re different from other running stores. The focus is on finding shoes that can really help people, not just selling a shoe.”
So far, the mindset has worked for Elliot and her husband. They celebrated their store’s first year last month and have experienced so much success between their store and the different races they organize around town, that thoughts of expansion have been tentatively explored.
While Elliot said she would rather stay mum on her future business plans, Moe Stubblefield, a runner and future Savannah College of Art and Design student who works retail at Georgia Game Changers has no doubt in Elliot’s ability to continue helping people.
“My favorite thing about working here is just how compassionate they are,” said Stubblefield. “She really cares about her customers and she really wants to help educate them. I learn something new every time I’m here.”
Elliot not only completed a 5k in early 2012 — something she once never thought possible — she won a First Female Finisher medal as well.