For the most part, chemical engineering sophomore Dustin Edwards is a lot like any MSU student. He studies hard, he’s part of a few clubs on campus, and he’s even in the Air Force ROTC program.
There is one glaring difference between him and his peers — he doesn’t wear any shoes.
The State News recently caught up with Edwards to talk about why he walks barefoot and the reactions he gets to it.
TSN: How long have you been walking barefoot?
DE: It all started in high school. I saw some kid with some funny toe shoes. And I was like, ‘Huh, what are those,’ and I did a lot of research and I found that there’s people that go barefoot all the time and I was like ‘Huh, I’m going to try that.’ So the last three years, I’ve been going barefoot as much as possible.
What do you tell those who ask why you go barefoot?
One, I think it’s good for you medically. I think if you wear a cast on your arm all day, everyday, the bones and muscles in your arm will get weaker and weaker because you’re not using them in the way that they’re supposed to be used. Same thing with our feet. The shoes inhibit our feet from using the bones and muscles in the way they’re supposed to. And if the bones and muscles in my feet work properly, then my hips and my knees and my lower back can all align and work properly so as an old man, I probably won’t have lower back pain.
Two, I think it’s really safe and really clean. If I was a chemist and I wanted to grow some germs, I would get a moist petri dish and stick it in a dark closet. Hmmm, moist and dark. That kind of sounds like my shoes. And that’s why shoes smell so bad. Because you’re actually growing fungus and bacteria inside of your shoe. And how often do people wash their shoes? Not very often, if ever ... I wash my feet every day ... there is glass some places and yeah I have gotten cut, but the small ones don’t really cut you and the big ones you can avoid if you see them.
And three, it’s a lot of fun. I get to feel the world. If I’m walking through the woods, I get to see the trees, hear the birds, smell the flowers and feel the ground.
What’s your experience been like going barefoot in college?
There’s lots of weirdos at college and they’re very accepting of weird ways. The only places at college that won’t let me go barefoot is in the cafeterias and in the science labs. And the Main Library for some reason, which doesn’t make sense to me. But I talked to all of those people.
I went to the head of the culinary services and really made sure.
Do they have that rule? Why do they have that rule? And it turns out they do. So I’m a rule follower. I like to follow the rules.
Can you think of an awkward situation you’ve been in because of being barefoot?
Almost daily, people ask me, ‘Where are your shoes?’ And I say, ‘Oh, don’t worry. They’re safe at home.’ ... A lot of times people will ask me, ‘Did someone steal your shoes?’ ... I’ve been walking down the sidewalk, people offer me rides. They say, ‘Hey, do you need a ride? Do you need help? Are you OK?’ I say, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ And I’ve had people offer me shoes, offer me socks that they had in their backpack. But I enjoy when people ask.
So you don’t feel the cold in the winter?
I do feel the cold. That’s a misconception. People think that because I go barefoot so much, my feet are dull to the senses. What really happens is you just get used to those sensations. I imagine it like someone who is deaf all their life and then they get a hearing aid. The first sounds they hear are going to be very painful because they’re not used to hearing sound but the sound itself isn’t painful. So, like gravel or even the cold, at first it will hurt a lot because your nerves aren’t used to feeling that sensation. But the cold I’ve just gotten used to. Now I do have my limits. My limits are pretty cold, though.
Some of the conditions, it depends. If it’s wet, that sucks a lot of the heat out. So snow, it will get my feet colder a lot quicker and the salt is actually really bad and that stuff can burn your feet, chemical burns if you stand in it too long ... So you’ve got to pay attention to some of the conditions ... But I can go pretty cold ... 10 to 15 degrees is kind of my careful situation. If it’s a little wet, maybe not, but anything above 15 degrees is pretty fine most of the time.
Do you know anyone else who walks barefoot?
Around campus, there’s hardly any. I am part of a group called the Society for Barefoot Living(sic), so people do walk barefoot around the world and there’s been people who’ve won Olympic events barefoot. People who do marathons barefoot, even ultra marathons barefoot. There’s a lot of tribes in Central America that don’t necessarily live barefoot but they wear what I have here: Jesus sandals. They’re little pieces of rubber and you lace them around your ankle. So very minimal-like shoes which is pretty close to being barefoot.