Seeing, touching and smelling feet all day would not be the career choice of a podophobic, but throw professional athletes in the mix, and it’s a whole new ball game, complete with giant Nikes and twisted ankles.
It takes a love of feet and lots of know-how to handle a foot on the NBA scale, and Utah Jazz podiatrist Dr. Michael Lowe has decades of experience under his belt.
“They just called up one day and asked if I was interested,” he says.
He’s been courtside at home games ever since, attending to both our guys and members of the opposing team.
Dr. Lowe has seen the team through 33 seasons, three trainers and four coaches in his 36 years of practicing podiatry. In all this experience, what he’s found is not surprising: Athletes owe a lot to a good pair of shoes.
“We’ve seen lots of injuries just from shoe gear that isn’t giving support anymore, and that develops stress to the foot that can go on to a fracture, plantar fasciitis or tendonitis,” Lowe says. “They play with such a level of intensity that a lot of times they don’t realize they’ve hurt themselves.”
Because of intense wear on the shoes and the importance of good foot support, the team’s starters get a brand new pair of shoes at least weekly, and some even replace shoes every few days. “It’s common that rookies come to camp and in college they got a brand new pair of shoes at the beginning of the season, midway through the season and, if they play in a tournament, at the end of the season,” Lowe says. “So they have an equivalent of probably 3,000 miles on a basketball shoes. We like them to have no more than 150 to 200 miles maximum.”
Of course, when he’s not overseeing foot injuries at the EnergySolutions Arena, he runs his own practice downtown. And although every one of his patients—on the court or off—receives the best of his care, the attention he gives the athletes is just a little different.
“I have to be able to help the athlete get better faster because they can’t afford to take off six or eight weeks to rest,” he says. “And if I make mistakes, I don’t want to read about it in the paper.”
Although his job feeds the players’ desires to play at any cost, he also has to protect them from their own wills.
“John Stockton would play through almost any injury if we’d let him,” Lowe says. “There was a game back East when he got so ill with the flu that [the coach] told him to stay in the hotel. When the team got to the arena to start the game, he had taken a cab there so he could still play.”
But it’s obvious the risk is worth the reward. “There’s a lot of different ways to get hurt in basketball, but it’s been a fun experience,” he says. “It’s very satisfying to get people better so they can appreciate using a body pain-free and be able to enjoy what they work so hard to do.”