Barefooting and Family Support


By Karen Putz, Illinois H&V

Karen barefooting backwards

In the spring of 2010, I decided to do something bold: barefoot water skiing. I’d been inspired by Judy Myers, a 66-year-old woman featured on The Today Show.  She started barefooting at the age of 53.  In the spring, I met Judy at the World Barefoot Center in Florida  and spent the morning learning how to barefoot again.   By fall, I had a whole new lifestyle.

I first learned to barefoot water ski when I was sixteen.  One summer day when I was nineteen, I went from hard of hearing to deaf in an instant.   I was water skiing on my bare feet and I turned to cross the wake.  My toe got caught in the wake and I went head-over-heels in a not-so-graceful cartwheel on the water.   When I climbed into the boat, I just figured I had water in my ears and that the hearing I had left would return.

It didn’t.

That summer marked a new journey in my life as I learned to embrace American Sign Language and the use of hearing aids from morning to night.  I eventually stopped barefoot water skiing and dove into other things.  My circle of deaf and hard of hearing friends grew and I got married.  Joe and I went on to have three deaf and hard of hearing kids.  We learned from research that the five generations of deaf and hard of hearing family members resulted from a very rare gene.  My family’s story can be found at

The sport that brought both happiness and sadness into my life is now filling me with happiness again.  I am hooked.  I spent the whole summer barefooting and meeting barefooters from all over.   During Women’s Barefoot Week in November, I hung out with fifteen women at the World Barefoot Center. I spent six days “walking on water”, as the sport is also known. It was a communication challenge to spend a week with a group of new folks and no interpreter, but I managed pretty well with the help of two women who volunteered as my lipreading interpreters.

On the very first day, A.J. Porecca , the young man pictured, gave us gals a ride on his back.  I had never done that before—what fun! ( I offered him some Motrin afterwards.)   On the third day, I learned to barefoot backwards—another brand new skill!

My cohorts back at Hands & Voices have been enjoying some good-natured ribbing over my new hobby, and a suggestion was even been made that I get an H&V-logo on my wetsuit—go professional!  A few have even shared ways to correlate barefooting to family support.  Candace Lindow-Davies of MN H&V thought, “Barefoot waterskiing and family support seem like one in the same activity to me.  My initial reaction to the news that I would be raising a child who is deaf was extreme fear and being completely overwhelmed at the mere thought of it.  There’s no way I’m skilled enough to do this!!  If someone said I would learn how to barefoot water ski, I think my reaction would be the same!  But, you jump right in WITH BOTH FEET and you amaze yourself at what you’re able to accomplish and learn in a short amount of time!  You just need access to all possible sources of information and support and the strong belief that YOU CAN DO THIS!  Like I said, one and the same!”

I thought about what Candace wrote and I reflected back on the three days that I spent learning how to barefoot backwards.  When Judy first suggested that I could learn “backwards” back in June, my first thought was the same as Candace’s: There’s no way that I’m skilled enough to do this!

Before I jumped in with both feet, I received some skilled instruction from Keith St. Onge, who is a World Barefoot Champion.  He broke down the whole process in bite-sized pieces of information.  He brought me up to the hull of the boat and guided me through the motions while Judy sat in front of me and repeated everything he said so I could lipread her. He dragged me through the water for three days, adding more steps and information each time I accomplished a skill that brought me closer to skiing backwards.  At one point, I remarked how amazed I was at how many steps there were and how much information there was to process while trying to get up on the water.  “If I gave you all of the information at once, it would have been too much to process,” he explained.  “If we do it in baby steps and keep adding to what you know, then before you know it, you’ve accomplished it!”

A few tries later, I stared at the water below me—I was indeed standing up on the water and going backwards!  Keith St. Onge was a “Guide By Your Side” every step of the way.  So if you can't barefoot ski right away, then you find someone you can ride on until you learn the skill yourself-- kinda the same way when a kid is diagnosed and the parent knows nothing at first-- gets a ride from Hands & Voices and a Guide By Your Side until he/she learns the skills that are needed.  Then before you know it, the parent is doing it backwards and forwards on the journey!

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