BOZEMAN, Mont. — Damian Stoy was 20 when he was diagnosed in 2002 with arthritis in both knees. A typical overuse injury, he could barely walk and had to stop running, which had become his passion.
A few doctors and physical therapists told him he'd never run again and in at least one case, Stoy responded by cursing the doctor and walking out.
"How could a doctor tell someone they'll never be able to do what they love again?" he said.
Then Stoy found Chi Running and it "was truly a gift," he says on his Wholistic Running website.
Eight years later, certified in the trademarked practice, he preaches the gospel of Chi Running to private clients and small groups. In September, he gave clinics to the Big Sky Wind Drinkers.
"We're born to run," Stoy, 31, told the gathering of runners.
But we forget how to run correctly.
"Watch kids run," he said.
Kids use gravity to run, leaning forward. They run efficiently. But something happens as they grow into adults. Adults run with their bodies more upright and that causes more impact to the body, Stoy said.
Mimi Matsuda, 37, had skimmed through "Chi Running Book: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless Injury-Free Running," but she said "it was valuable to see in action."
"I appreciate efficiency," she said. "And hearing Damian's story and how it worked for him, I want to be mindful of this while I'm out on the trail."
Andy Garza, 47, said he studied "natural running."
He said everyone could benefit from it, but it isn't something that happens overnight.
"I can turn it on, but I can't hold it all the time," he said.
Stoy agreed, saying it takes time and practice "because you're changing years of habits."
If Kristyn Birrell is any indication, the techniques seem to work.
Birrell, 33, is the manager and a certified instructor at Bikram Yoga Bozeman. She took a private lesson with Stoy about a year ago.
At the time, she ran with wild arm swings — movements Stoy caught on videotape as he does with all his clients because people don't believe their issues until they see the evidence, he said.
When Stoy and Birrell met for a second session on Oct. 18, Stoy watched Birrell run a short distance.
Birrell, a marathon runner, had a "really sexy lateral hip motion" as she ran, he told her, laughing. But that's inefficient and can lead to injury.
So Stoy worked on Birrell's posture, instructing her to "zipper up" her lower abs without tightening her butt muscles.
He also told Birrell she needed to focus on a full-foot landing rather than landing on her heel as she brought her foot forward. He taught her a technique he calls "peeling the feet" to help her get there.
Then Stoy pulled a small metronome from his pocket and set it at 180 beeps per minute — a cadence he said Birrell needed to mimic by taking shorter strides.
"Cadence is one of the most effective ways to get them to run right," Stoy said. "It's a cheater way to get there. But they can still heel strike or make other mistakes, so it's not the be all and end all."
What was also notable Thursday was what Stoy didn't see: the wild, inefficient arm swings Birrell had a year earlier. Until she brought it up, Stoy hadn't even remembered the issue.
A lot of people pump their arms across their upper body, Stoy explained. But he had taught Birrell to hold her arms bent at 90 degrees and swing them front to back in a pendulum motion, which she'd been practicing.
"I used to get really tight shoulders," Birrell said.
When Birrell successfully combined all of Stoy's instructions, she felt like she was floating.
"You feel lighter and you feel better," she said. "And you can tell you are running more efficiently."
Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com