On Sunday, April 7, the sports world will once again turn its full attention to Key West, Florida, for the Cow Key Channel Bridge Run —the world’s only Zero K. The event has overshadowed other sporting spectacles this month, including the NCAA Final Four. And yet, the narrative of this year’s run will be written by one man, Can Billings, who commands attention across the world. Many might recall Billings’ heartbreaking finish in 2018’s race, where after a month of training for the 300-foot run, he fell flat (literally) midway through the race.
But it was Billings’ story of resilience that captivated the nation’s attention in ’18. One of three triplets, Billings was born with a rubber foot and today wears a rubber chicken on the end of his right leg. The chicken has become a symbol of hope and inspiration for athletes — and millions will be watching Can Billings this Sunday to see if he can fulfill what he describes as a “divine calling from God.”
“Billings transcends sports,” said legendary sprinter and Olympic track star Usain Bolt. “There have been so many times I wanted to quit or simply didn’t believe in myself. But Can Billings has always reminded me that I belong on that track with everyone else.”
Recently, internationally recognized film and documentary director Quincy Perkins released a short video on Facebook that chronicles Billings’ life journey. The video has garnered more than 5 million views.
On the eve of this weekend’s race, the Weekly had the rare pleasure of catching up with Billings, who vows to silence his critics and aims to cross over 300 feet of Hell and into the hearts of millions.
April 15th, 2018. You said falling short of the Cow Key Channel Bridge Run was one of the most humiliating days of your life. Can you tell us about one of the other most humiliating days of your life? I was caught choking my chicken in the high school locker room after a meet. Everyone looks at it as a rubber chicken, but it is so much more to me. I still get bullied on Facebook about the incident.
Usain Bolt referred to you as the white Larry Bird. What does that mean to you? I don’t follow baseball, so I’m not really sure what she means.
You overcame a significant disability and defied medical odds as the first athlete with a rubber chicken foot to compete in the Run. Why did you choke last year and what makes you think you can make it all the way to Stock Island in 2019? I didn’t choke. I tripped. Spray from a jet ski tour caused the bridge to shift during my 2018 run, so I was literally taken down by a rooster tail. I’m adjusting my lift and using a polypropylene lubricant on the chicken foot this year. I won’t stand for another fall.
There have been rumors of talks with Adidas, Nike and Under Armor to trademark and sell the rubber chicken as their premier running shoe. Can you comment on this and if so, how much of this deal is riding on Sunday’s performance? Nike has a crew following me for a “Just moo it!” and a “Just cluck it!” commercial. I can also make cash drinking milk at the finish line. If those deals fall through, I have non-performance based options with Chewy.com and Dion’s.
You were diagnosed with Neurological Rubber Foot Syndrome (NRFS), which affects 1 in every 8 billion people. How many women are “into that kind of thing?” I see ladies sneaking photos with their phones, and I’ve been approached by filmmakers who make naughty foot movies, so I’d say most. I have a shirt with an arrow pointing down that says, “Chicks dig it.” It’s a reference to baby chickens, but for some reason it offends people.
In Quincy Perkins’ short documentary about you, you said, “I’m in the best shape of my life.” Can you give us an idea of what your workout and dietary routine look like? I do the alphabet diet. On the first day you can only eat foods that start with the letter A. Next day B, and so on until you get to Z. I’m on Q today. It’s a tough letter since Quizno’s closed. I do the same thing for exercise, so today is quads.
Timmy Johnston, a 2nd grader at Poinciana Elementary shared a question: “What do you do with the rubber chicken at night and how do you keep it clean?” That’s an excellent question, Timmy. I put peanut butter on it when I get home and the dog licks it clean. After that, I put it on my bedpost. It’s not just a foot. It’s a dream catcher too.
Speaking of fame, many stars, including Tila Tequila, Cardi B and Bill Cosby have all said Quincy Perkins is the most difficult director they have ever worked with. Do you share their sentiments? You don’t win Academy Awards being nice. Quincy has a clearly defined pecking order, but he is a good egg with raw talent.
If (or when) you complete this weekend’s run, what’s next for Can Billings? You heard it here first. I’m officially challenging Diana Nyad to a Cow Key Bridge triathalon. First we run across the bridge, then we swim the channel, and finally we race tricycles to the finish line. She can wear her jellyfish mask and I’ll wear my chicken foot. I’m coming for you, Nyad!
If you had to choose one 50 Cent song that defines your journey, what would it be? “I’ll Whip Ya Head Boy” from Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is my anthem. When I run, the rubber chicken’s head literally whips against the cement. The line “I hit her with the llama to get this cake” sums up my struggle to a tee.
Now that you are a celebrity, do you find it difficult that some people only see you as a sex symbol and not as an athlete? People may look at me as a celebrity or sex symbol when they see me on television, but it’s different in person. Once they smell my foot, they know I’m an athlete first.
You often mention your “doubters.” Can you name any doubters in your hometown of Key West and do you have a message for them? John Vagnoni looks at my foot and tells me it’s no Green Parrot. Fran says it’s no Blue Macaw. I can’t wait to see the look on their smug faces when I cross the finish line and announce that I’m opening a bar in the 600 block of Whitehead Street called the Yellow Chicken. I’m not flocking around.
You have become a spokesperson against body shamers — particularly standing up for those with ugly feet, hairy small toes or crusty toenails. How big is this tribe and what message do you have for others who are afraid to shed their socks in public? It’s called the “Bare Your Soles” movement. It’s a play on words that incorporates the soles of your feet and your spiritual soul, but it takes so much explaining.
There are substantial rumors that Paramount has picked up the rights to a movie about you, should you finish Saturday’s race. Does this mean any additional pressure as you prepare and can you tell us who is in talks to portray the character of Can Billings on the big screen? Maybe Rami Malek should play me? I’ve heard Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, Richard Marx and Greg Wythe are vying for the role. I could play myself too.
What do you eat the day before and day of the race? Do you ever eat chicken? I’ll eat Dion’s if I’m drunk, but chicken is a bit taboo with my foot. I eat a lot of eggs. People think that’s weird — like I’m eating baby chickens or something. They don’t stop to consider that most eggs are unfertilized. And it’s not a real chicken on my foot. It’s rubber. I’d never eat rubber eggs.
Critics have posited several conspiracy theories, saying that Can Billings is a fictional character, with a peculiar likeness to several individuals in Key West — including Nick Doll, Chad Newman and David Sloan (all who share striking physical similarities). What do you say to these critics? They CAN think whatever they want. As long as I get top BILLINGS. Seriously though, are they runners? I’ve never heard of them, but I’ll beat them over any bridge and drink them under any table any time.
Should you complete Sunday’s challenge, there is talk of a pay-per-view event between you and Key West Mayor Teri Johnston. Do you have message for Johnston in the case of that? One of the networks is pushing for a Brawl on Duval, but me and the mayor are friends, so it would have to be a fake wrestling thing. Maybe she could wear a rubber iguana on her foot to even things out.
For more on this year’s Cow Key Channel Zero K Bridge Run check out: Cowkeybridgerun.com and visit David Sloan’s Facebook page for the full documentary on Can Billings.
Race Date: Sunday, April 7
Time: Grazing and costume judging at 11a.m. Run at high noon.
After party and parade at 12:02 p.m.