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A Copperhead Snake Helps Introduce Tommy to FiveFingers

by Dan Hinckley » on Feb 27, 2012 3

One of the best parts of Vibram FiveFingers is how they have helped so many people change their lives.  We love hearing of  how people discovered FiveFingers and the impact they have had. The stories are often unique and interesting, so we decided that we wanted to highlight more of these and share them with other readers.  To get things started we asked Tommy Housworth, who we’ve featured previously in our “Picture of the Day“, to share with us his story of FiveFingers and how they’ve impacted his life.   Check it out below, and be sure to leave a comment for Tommy!

Enter Tommy…

A Bite To Remember

My use of Vibram FiveFingers as a runner and participant of FitWit, a local fitness boot camp, is hardly unique.  However, the manner in which I became a FiveFingers convert is – most likely – a story too bizarre to be replicated by any other Vibram wearers.  At least, I hope so, because the road to barefoot/minimalist exercise was a pretty surreal one for me.

It started in July of 2009, as I ventured from Atlanta up to the North Georgia mountains to take part in a Native American sweat lodge experience.  I’ve long been fascinated by Native American culture, and I’m a bit of a sucker for spiritual exploration, so I thought it would be a weekend to remember.  It was, for all the wrong reasons.

Upon arrival, I ventured out into the woods with other guests and Lakota, a serene Native American elder, who was our leader for the weekend.  As I was helping build the lodge, a structure made of bound branches and tarps, I felt a paralyzing pain in my left foot.  Apparently, one of the tarps was harboring a three foot copperhead snake, which fell out and struck.  I was wearing flip-flops, so he got a clean shot at my unsuspecting bare foot.

Where I was Bit by a Copperhead snake

The campground where I was bitten. The assemblage of limbs and branches there is the framework for the sweat lodge structure

After getting me away from the snake, Lakota came over, held my hand and said, “Don’t be afraid. Stay calm.” That helped. Somehow, I was staying calmer than I imagined I ever would under such circumstances. She sang a line or two of a Native American hymn over me. This is when I assumed my fate was sealed.  I wasn’t sure if this was a tribal version of Last Rites or a healing ritual, but the prospects weren’t looking good.

I was raced to the nearest emergency room.  Based on the supposed number of snakes in the area, this particular hospital seemed poorly equipped to offer much help.  They actually had to call the CDC to ask what to do, and whether anti-venom should be administered.  I had visions of some poor intern checking Wikipedia to see what to do.

Soon, I was being assured that I wasn’t going to die, but there was concern as to whether the venom would spread and, if it did, what the likelihood was that I would be able to keep part or all of my foot and leg.

The town pharmacist, a character straight out of Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men”, came into my room with vials of anti-venom.  He looked at my swollen, discolored foot and – with a bedside manner I can only describe as nonexistent – told me that I was definitely destined for amputation. Panic began to set in.

I was transferred to a hospital in Atlanta, where four vials of anti-venom were administered and – thankfully – the swelling began to subside.  Soon, I was out of ICU and in a room, then after a couple of days, home again with both feet and all ten toes intact.

As I went through the recovery process, I did some homework on the anatomy of the human foot.  I wanted to be sure that ‘full recovery’ meant that I would continue to run the 5k and 10k races that populated my calendar each year.  When I began to read about the benefits and biomechanics of barefoot running, I was intrigued.  However, aside from some smoothly paved sidewalks and green spaces, I was leery of testing the notion.

Enter Vibram FiveFingers.  Yes, I thought they were sorta hideous to look at.  Yes, I was self-conscious when I put them on the first time.  And, yes, I was in love with them from the first neighborhood trek I made in them.  I now run and workout exclusively in Vibrams, except when I kick them off for a pure barefoot experience in the right conditions (assuming there are no copperheads nearby).

I own two pair – a black set of KSOs and a colorful pair of Bikilas.  I’ve been greeted with jokes, odd stares, and a lot of questions that have led to some friends considering the notion of minimalist or barefoot running, and to others at least opening their minds up about why one might choose to take this route over the clunky immobility of standard running shoes.

For me, it just took a simple trip into the woods – and an Intensive Care Unit or two.  But in the end, I’m proudly standing – and running – on my two bare feet, and my Vibram FiveFingers.

Tommy Working Out at FitWit

Tommy Housworth is a professional corporate/comedy writer from Atlanta, GA.  Happily married with two kids, Tommy loves baseball, music, meditation, yoga, and reading.  Tommy has been a runner for nine years, and a barefoot/minimalist runner for two years.

Note: We’d love to hear how you found Vibram FiveFingers!  Send us your story at to be a feature reader!

Submitted Comments

  1. Dan Hinckley says:

    We use to catch copperheads while camping in the West Virginia Mountains. Nasty suckers. They do have an amazing amount of venom with each bite. Glad you were able to recover fully!

  2. Mikey says:

    Ouch… most painful way to discover FiveFingers ever.

  3. Toby says:

    WHOAAA!! this is cool…. and i have to say: ignoring the stare is definitely a good decision!

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