In grade school, I used to launch my ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs) from my foot and into the air by twisting my toes as I kicked as high and as hard as I could. I would watch my AFOs spin in the sky before they fell to the ground. The more rotations, the better. Bonus points if they landed upright.
I don’t use AFOs anymore to help me manage my Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) symptoms. But whenever I glance upon my old pair of AFOs tucked away in the corner of my closet, I remember how they affected my childhood — in some good ways and in some bad.
The first few AFOs I had were milky-white with a single white Velcro strap at the top. They weren’t the sexiest things in the world. But the stares they drew never actually bothered me. The AFOs made me feel special and I think I appreciated what attention I got due to them.
In fact, when I asked a few of my childhood friends what they remember about me and my AFOs, they said I was pretty cavalier with them. Supposedly, it wasn’t uncommon for me to take them off in class so my legs could “breathe.” And during recess, I wouldn’t just occasionally kick my AFOs into the sky; in a game of tag, I would apparently sometimes wield one like a club as I chased friends around the playground.
Indeed, I don’t think I ever felt embarrassed about my AFOs. Overall, I liked them as a kid. And when I wasn’t treating them like a toy, I remember appreciating the added stability they brought me. I also thought it was a nice plus that, when worn properly, my AFOs allowed me to kick balls around the playground with a bit more force.
That said, in middle school, I also remember I developed a habit of kicking my friends right in the shin as well. I have no excuse. I was a bit of a jerk back then and it was my way of greeting my guy friends.
My childhood friends, in turn, remember taking my AFOs from me as a bit of tease. Truthfully, I don’t remember that at all. Perhaps we were all jerks in middle school.
It was sometime during high school when I gave up wearing AFOs and traded them for generic ankle supports that served primarily to prevent me from twisting my ankle. Because I was a member of the high school marching band, I welcomed the reduced weight and increased breathability.
My parents and I certainly had concerns about my participation in marching band considering my CMT. My high school band director said he remembered us asking him many questions every season about my condition and performance. But he was always very kind and accommodating. And ultimately, my time in marching band was the highlight of my teenage years.
It’s been more than 10 years since I last wore AFOs. I don’t know if I’ll go back to them being part of my daily routine anytime soon. My parents and I sometimes talk about it. Over the years, I do feel like my balance is gradually getting worse.
My sister, also affected by CMT, has a pair of AFOs that she got in the past few years and they look much more comfortable than my old solid AFOs from childhood.
Regardless, I still haven’t Marie Kondo’d away my old AFOs — I feel like the memories they bring about still spark joy. And looking at my old AFOs reminds me of my old friends, the challenges I’ve overcome, and the lessons I’ve learned.
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