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Barefoot Controversy at the Saline Rec Center

2010 November 5
by Nayan Hajratwala

My first barefoot run was at the Recreation Center in Saline, Michigan (just south of Ann Arbor) back in January 2010. Since then, I’ve run there many times as well as run a 5K and a 10K. For most of the summer I ran outside, but as it began cooling off, I went back to the Rec Center treadmills.

Today was the first negative reaction I’ve had to my barefoot running.

As I approached the treadmill in my flip-flops, a few people glanced my way as they usually do when seeing something unusual. One woman in particular gave me a bit of a surprised look. She had a baseball cap on, so I’ll call her Cappy. I kicked off my flip-flops and hopped up on the treadmill next to Cappy. No sooner had I started the machine than she hopped off, leaving all her stuff behind and disappeared around the corner.

A few minutes later, she returned and began running again. A couple minutes after that, a Rec Center staff member came over:

Staff: “Do you have anything else to put on your feet”?

Me: “No.” (I wasn’t going to run in flip-flops).

At this point, Cappy took out her headphones to (presumably) listen in.

Staff: “Our rules say you have to wear shoes”.

Me: “I’ve been running here for almost a year without shoes.”

Staff: “It’s for health reasons.”

Me: “My feet are cleaner than most people’s shoes.”

Me: “I don’t think there are any Michigan Health Regulations against being barefoot.” (not sure if this is true, but I think I heard it somewhere).

Staff: “Ok, go ahead and keep running. I’ll go talk to someone.”

Me: (thinking) Damn, now I have to keep running. 🙂

I finished my run and after I got off and wiped down the machine (which most people wearing shoes don’t do. ewwww!), the staff member approached and showed me the rule book. I said that I’m pretty sure they’re not allowed to have that rule since it’s a publicly funded center (again, not sure). She offered to have the Director call me about it, which I agreed to. She also conceded that it was not a health problem, just a rule.

I also suggested that if they wanted to keep that rule, perhaps they should add the following rule as well: If you workout with shoes on, you may not put your sweaty feet on the locker room floor without appropriate footwear. She appreciated the logic, and was very polite through the whole encounter. Kudos!

Sooo….  I have a couple questions:

  1. Is the “must wear shoes” rule legal, particularly since this is a publicly funded center?
  2. Is there anything in the Michigan Health Code

It would be great to have answers before I talk to the director.