For many people the idea of choosing a pair of shoes might not be exciting. We could have different criteria for choosing them. Some are designed to keep us warm, or to be used during athletic endeavors. Shoes are purchased for formal occasions, or because we like the way a pair appears. Growing up with cerebral palsy influenced the type of shoes that worked for my feet. The lack of balance required more support to help me walk. Though simply having the ability to walk was a blessing in itself. There was a study done, finding one in three children with cerebral palsy were unable to walk. The ability to walk came later for me than someone who doesn’t have a disability. It took hours of physical therapy to gain the strength and stability to walk. But, even after my first steps were taken, the road continued. At each point during the process of walking extra support was needed. To begin with, they made a plastic mold designed to fit inside my shoe. Following the mold, there was a sole insert to provide more ankle support. Both forms of orthotics were helping support my ankles. They provided better balance as strength was formed in my feet and ankles. The orthotics also dictated the type of shoes I was able to wear.
My first memories of having shoes was always having high-top shoes. The taller shoe provided support for my unstable ankles. They also had to fit the mold created to stabilize the ankles. It was one of the first times I can remember being different. I couldn’t wear the same kind of shoes other kids would wear. Getting a pair of new shoes often felt like a discouraging experience. There were only a couple different shoe stores we could shop for new shoes. Each time a pair was picked out, it seemed to go through a test before it could be purchased. The shoe would be brought out. Then, the mold from my shoe had to be inserted into the new shoe. Often times, that first step ended the possibility of a shoe. It was always the first shoe that was picked. Then the second choice didn’t work and the third choice didn’t work. Soon, we just went with any high-top shoe that my orthotic mold fit into. The process of shoe shopping was often saddening. It seemed like something that should have been fun, getting to pick from all different kinds of styles. When looking at a cool shoe, the first thought was always if they would be big enough to fit my orthotic molded boot. I hoped for the day of more footwear options.
If more footwear options were going to be achieved, more strength had to be found. Luckily for me, I had a brother. A brother who liked to play outside, riding bikes, playing tag, and playing on swing sets, so staying inside wasn’t really optional. He wanted someone to play with and who better than a brother. I wanted to play as well, even though at times it felt challenging to keep up. Our desire for us to play together pushed me in ways that felt vital. Even at the time it might have been challenging to understand what was happening. The orthotic boot for my shoe was seemingly only half the battle. The other half of the equation would be gaining strength and stability in my ankle. Physical therapy to help me walk had been done, but improvement continued to be the goal. If strengthening continued it could be possible to move out of the orthotic boot. The major way to gain more stability in my ankle was to run and play, which the molded boot helped me achieve. This was where having my brother helped the process. We spent so much of our youth playing outside. We learned to ride bikes, play sports, and build forts together. There was so much fun to be had, staying inside felt boring. All of the activity soon had me moving from the orthopedic boot, to an orthopedic insole for my shoes. The graduation felt like a huge step. It meant I could wear more types of shoes.
Moving from the orthotic boot to the insole was a big deal. The achievement signified improvement with the cerebral palsy symptoms holding me back. There was still overcoming to do with the insole. Progress would need to continue in order to wear shoes without any orthotic support, that would be my goal. As life began with the insole, shoe selection was still pretty limited. Making the transition would still require a shoe with good ankle support. So, even with the boot being gone, high-top shoes would be the desired shoe. They would help sturdy my ankles as they continued to gain strength. We still needed a wide enough shoe to hold the orthopedic insole and sturdy enough for me to remain balanced during activities. The search for shoes to fit the new criteria was slightly easier. However, we remained a way from wearing any shoe in a store. Being active without the orthopedic boot inside my shoe was unsteady to begin with. However, over time playing outside my new balance point was found. I was able to grow into wearing shoes with less support. Eventually my stability and balance allowed for lower profile sneakers with less ankle support. The non-high-top shoes had to be roomy enough to fit my insole, but it signified my balance just continued to improve. Everything with my walking was getting better, I was on my way toward wearing any shoe.
Finally, after years of patience it happened. I’ve been trying to remember my age at the time. It seems like I was around the age of ten years old. One of the final appointments with the orthopedist took place. They felt like walking and running would work without wearing the insole inside my shoe. It feels slightly strange to remember a moment so vividly from being ten years old. But, it has become a memory that will probably last my whole life. We walked into a foot locker shoe store inside one of the area malls. Yes, I totally remember the exact store. The reason I remember is from spending years looking into their huge wall of shoes. It never worked for me to buy shoes there because they didn’t fit my orthotics. When getting shoes for me everything had to be measured, fitted, and double checked to make sure it was supportive enough. The final step was whether the shoe felt comfortable enough. Foot locker didn’t seem to have the shoes, time, or knowledge to complete the process. It felt like getting fitted for ski boots every time I needed a new pair of shoes. But, now that process could be put to bed.
It felt like such freedom when walking into that foot locker. I remember looking at the large wall of display shoes they had, just as I had in the past. With some skepticism remaining, I turned to my mom and inquired again, “any shoe?” My mom’s positive response elevated my excitement. Looking at all the shoes and knowing it was possible to wear them felt like something had been accomplished. I walked out of the foot locker with a pair of slip on vans. The vans were the cool shoe to wear at school back then, but they didn’t have much ankle support. Those shoes might have been the most challenging for me to walk in of any on the wall. However, the goal of getting a pair of the vans became part of my motivation to wear any shoe. Buying the vans was pretty cool, but they did lack some ankle support, making them challenging to wear. The lesson with the vans was to continue being cautious when purchasing shoes. It would still be important to pay attention to the supportiveness when buying a new pair. Over time, my ankles have become more and more stable. However, there remains care taken when buying shoes for activities like running. It’s important that I find something with a little extra support.
Moving out of wearing orthotics in my shoes was a goal. It was one of the most distinct goals having to do with cerebral palsy in my memory. The feeling of being different from friends was challenging. Watching people around me who didn’t require extra support in order to play. My orthotics were keeping me away from wearing any shoe. Every time we went to the store, the process of being fitted took extra time. The process also became a reminder of my differences from others. But, getting to the place where all shoes were available to wear was exciting. The emotion had me feeling that some symptoms of my cerebral palsy could be overcome. However, that process of overcoming those barriers would take time and effort. It would also require patience to break through some of the barriers. The feeling of accomplishing this goal only propelled me to continue taking on the challenges of CP. Whatever challenges we face, hopefully the success of meeting those obstacles pushes us forward. The successes can help strengthen us to take on more challenges in our lives.