issue Summer 2023

Putting Feet First

By Sabreen Alfadel
Max Tefo, SCPM ’25
Photo by Michael R. Schmidt

Former Soccer Player Pursues DPM:

Max Tefo, SCPM ’25, is a father, husband, athlete, physical therapist and student. A descendant of the Bamiléké tribe from West Cameroon who was raised in France, Mr. Tefo was offered a full-ride scholarship to move to the United States and play soccer as a student-athlete. Little did he know that this opportunity would open many doors and actualizations in his personal and professional life.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Iowa Wesleyan University, where he met his wife, earned a doctorate in physical therapy at St. Ambrose University in 2018, and is now enrolled at Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine.

Mr. Tefo’s journey to podiatric medicine was certainly eventful, reflecting his perseverance and discipline, qualities that he’s carried with him since he was a child. Prior to his professional soccer career, he practiced martial arts for 10 years. Mr. Tefo’s active lifestyle taught him about the importance of believing in oneself, and to push even at the point of giving up.

Mr. Tefo’s display of soccer skills on the RFU campus reflects his athletic career at Iowa Central Community College and Iowa Wesleyan University.

“I brought that mentality into soccer, into school (and) I have that same mentality as I go through my life,” he explained. “As I mature and get more confident in myself and my abilities, I start searching for more growth. I don’t think stability is a thing. You either grow, or you don’t.”

Before actualizing his path in podiatry, Mr. Tefo moved to Illinois with his wife, where he worked as a physical therapist at Northwest Rehabilitation among orthopedic surgeons. It was during this time that he was introduced to podiatry, specifically by a colleague of his who happened to be a foot surgeon. “He was absolutely phenomenal in what he did, and also knew physical therapy very closely. He was like a bridge between medicine and physical medicine. I (decided to) approach him, and he told me what ‘DPM’ means,” Mr. Tefo recalled.

After a year of working as a physical therapist, Mr. Tefo knew that he wanted to go back to school. His work with physicians and ankle surgeons and researching podiatry inspired him to apply to Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine.

“I always have that desire to prove myself,” said Mr. Tefo, before he began to reflect on his upbringing in Cameroon. “When you have people that go two days without food, that is not okay. When you have people that would walk 10 miles to get water, like I did at seven years old, that is not okay.

“When podiatrists see patients, they don’t only think about fixing the problem — they also think about the patient’s ability to live his life once the problem is fixed.”

“The only thing we can afford to do is play soccer barefoot,” he continued. “So, growing up I saw a lot of people with foot deformities. That always intrigued me.”

Having witnessed many pediatric foot deformities, Mr. Tefo discovered that his dream is to eventually travel back to his birth country to make an impact through conservative treatments and rehabilitation. More specifically, he desires to work toward developing a prosthesis that is less reactive to the body.

“When podiatrists see patients, they don’t only think about fixing the problem — they also think about the patient’s ability to live his life once the problem is fixed,” Mr. Tefo said. “A hammer and a chisel are not the only tools we have. We have surgery, we have medicine, we treat wounds, we diagnose cancer — there’s a whole world of medicine focused just on the foot. I want the future me of 10 years to think back and say, ‘We did it.’”

Sabreen Alfadel is a staff writer with the RFU Division of Marketing and Brand Management, specializing in content development for social media efforts and initiatives. Learn more at rfu.ms/socialmedia.

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