My Right Foot

Gordon McGuire's becoming a role model for the severely disfigured. But he's by no means any sweet-natured Elephant Man type.

The producers didn't like that story.

So they depicted McGuire as the sad but affable shut-in who had never been able to drive a car because of his giant, malformed feet.

"For Christ's sake, I was a driving instructor before the accident," he says. "Come on!"

A rear view of McGuire today.
A rear view of McGuire today.
McGuire, outside his mother's house, in his newest version of specially made shoes.
McGuire, outside his mother's house, in his newest version of specially made shoes.

All that said, McGuire still considers the Ripley's segment a positive step. The national exposure brought e-mails and inquiries that have helped connect him to a burgeoning Internet community of people with similar vascular problems and deformities. The show helped lead him to the real solution for much of his foot pain -- radical reconstructive surgery.

Perhaps the biggest benefit, though, came close to home. Many of the people who knew him, and many of his mother's friends and fellow churchgoers, had no idea about the extent of McGuire's medical problems. Most, to be honest, considered him a cranky screw-up who had returned to his mother's house in Paradise Valley three years ago to freeload.

"It helped so much in that people in our lives now have an idea of what a battle this is," he says. "It's amazing how much better things are when people in your life don't think you're a total loser."

He can't blame folks for not knowing. Many hadn't seen him since he graduated from high school.

Back then, he was a bull, a football player and wrestler who, along with his parents, made every effort to act as though he wasn't different. His body would swell and ache, but it always youthfully rebounded.

His parents never talked about the scar across his torso or the fact that his feet were just the tip of a medical iceberg. The family ran with the idea that if Gordon were treated as a normal child, he would be treated normally and grow into a normal adult.

How long that adulthood might last, or what it might feel like, seemed like unanswerable questions better left unasked.

The downside of this approach is that McGuire was ignorant of his own body, a body that doctors who saw him at birth were pretty sure would self-destruct by adulthood.

Gordon McGuire was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1960. Darrell McGuire didn't know what to think of his newborn son. Some people in the Baptist church still considered a child like this to be a curse from God. Had Darrell McGuire done something terribly wrong?

The baby's feet were badly misshapen. More startling at the time was the large mass protruding from his torso.

The baby lived, but at age 3, the gigantic lump on the child began bleeding internally. Doctors had no solution but to cut the thing off. The surgery took seven hours, and doctors told the parents that the toddler very likely would not survive.

In time, though, the boy returned to full health. Which left his parents with another painful decision: What should they do about those feet?

"Looking back now, it probably would have been best to have them amputated," says Darrell McGuire, who also lives in Paradise Valley. "But at the time, with the technology then, you just couldn't trust that everything would work out. It was a horrible decision. And like a lot of decisions we made about Gordon, we just decided to let things be."

It seemed like the right choice through Gordon's childhood. Up through adolescence, he functioned pretty much as a normal kid. When he played football and wrestled, what he lacked in mobility he made up for in strength.

"He has always been amazingly strong," his father says. "Once you were in his grasp, he was going to win."

At the time, kids called him either "Bigfoot" or "Ogre."

"I was taunted quite a bit at the time, but it just didn't matter that much," he says. "I was able to sort of fight it off. And in a weird way, it gave you some amount of distinction."

After the television series Kung Fu came out, Gordon took up karate. By his high school graduation, his classmates were calling him "Bruce Lee." He could break seven one-inch boards with his punch. His message was clear:

Don't mess with me.

Beneath the tough veneer was a deep faith. To family and friends, he became less the tough guy and more of a natural preacher with a sweet heart, a strong, soothing baritone voice and a deep knowledge of the Bible.

As the McGuire family moved around the country because of Darrell's job, they always quickly connected with the local Baptist church. When they arrived in Toledo, Ohio, when Gordon was 12, they began working with a local preacher to start a new congregation.

"Right from the start, Gordon was a leader in our youth program," says the McGuires' pastor at the time, Harold Whitlock, who now lives in Oklahoma. "He was very popular and had this great personality. He wasn't handicapped as far as anyone was concerned. If someone asked about his feet, he just joked it off."

After several years in Ohio, the McGuires moved again, to Detroit, then Louisiana, then finally ending up in Phoenix after high school. But the family remained in touch with Whitlock throughout their moves.

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