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Published Feb. 11, 2008

I grew up looking down. While other kids searched the dirt for creepy crawlers, my eyes scanned feet. I saw more variety than a Baskin-Robbins: hairy-toed monsters, slender bullets in track flats, flip-flopped with farmer-tanned ankles. My foot fetish did not stem from a hidden desire I have for podiatry or weirdness; it was my way to search for my birth parents. I decided at an early age that two people with distinctive feet like mine were now plodding down the street and if I picked my head up, I would miss them. As I stared at countless sidewalks, I said a silent prayer for those wearing open-toed shoes.

Mom and Dad adopted me when I was 6 weeks old, and I love them deeply, though their feet are much prettier. I was afraid that Bigfoot was a part of my genetic lineage. Even though I had smaller models as a child, I've always been pretty sure God attached my toes while blindfolded. They are lumpy and bumpy, and they turn trail shoe soles into jagged weapons. One of my "claims to fame" is peeling a banana with my toes. I also once ran a mile in 5:02.

They stub almost daily. As I write this, I'm elevating the pinkie toe who ran herself into a concrete piling yesterday. Don't worry about her; she's used to it. I've clocked five marathons to date - and lost 10 toenails. What type of gene pool would concoct such clunkers?

One day, while surfing the Internet during lunch break, all of a sudden, there he was. The posting listed on read:

Birthfather in search of female adoptee born in Sarasota. Birthmother was 14 or 15 when she was born.

My toes wiggled. Could this be it? I quickly typed a hurried message in the Web site's "Report a Match" forum. The words I typed matched those on a bio sheet my parents had given me years before. The weight, height and extracurricular information of a family I'd never met flowed through my fingers.

Birth father is athletic and has hazel eyes. He plays all sports. Birth mother is a very conscientious person. Birth grandfather has one blue eye, one brown.

Three days later, I was getting ready to help my running buddy shop for her wedding dress when my cell phone rang. Thinking that the caller was a friend from Tallahassee, I answered with a chirpy "Hey!"

The woman on the other line wasted no time.

"Hi, my name is Patty, and I'm with Finding in Florida," she said. "I'm 100 percent sure I've found your birth father, and he's still in touch with your birth mother." I burst into tears. My boyfriend thought someone had died. "No, no," I told him. "Someone's alive!" I hastily called my parents - would they mind if I contacted my birth dad? "Why haven't you called him already?" Mom yelled.

With shaky fingers, I dialed my birth dad's number. The conversation went something like this.

"Hi, are you looking for someone who was born on Sept. 16, 1979?"

"Oh my gosh!"

"This is great!"

"What do your feet look like?"

My birth mother and father were 14 and 16 when I was born, and in the pictures they sent, our resemblance is striking. My birth father even sent a snapshot of him running track in high school. The camera caught him mid stride. His arm placement is the same as mine, too high. But enough of arms and legs.

Our feet first met at the Tampa airport, and it was Oprah-perfect, all open arms and stretchy grins, comparisons and contrasts. Your smile. Your hair. Your . . . derriere. (Two thanks and one blame, not bad.) Finally, I pointed downward at my feet. My birth mom kicked off her red sandals.

"I think those are mine!" she said, laughing.

"Are not!" My birth father stepped out of his loafers.

There we were, three shoeless people in an airport, not even in the security line, our grins aimed downward, discovering we resemble each other in almost every physical way, feet and all. I had found the link that screams to the world, "This is where my feet come from!" From that day forward, I cut Bigfoot out of my imaginary family tree.

That day was the same as my shoe size. A perfect 10.

Amy Hammond is a Tampa Bay area freelance writer who also serves as a local wellness coordinator for Wallace, Welch & Willingham.