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Stylin' With AFOs

A doctor ordered them just last fall — ankle foot orthotics, commonly called AFOs.

After numerous surgeries to maintain control of my feet, I was out of options. While the ankle and foot reconstructions helped, two subsequent falls undid the progress, and a new podiatrist wouldn’t try again.

With my left ankle rolling out and my right knee giving way, a young orthotist ordered the bulkier AFO option. A metal piece slides in under my orthotics while a metal bar reaches up from the outside and attaches to a shin guard look-alike front. A Velcro strap holds the shin guard piece in two places — one near my ankle and the other close to my knee.

A fashion statement they are not. Especially since they must be worn with tennis shoes.

The weather turned cold about the same I picked them up. When I realized the bulky frame that covers my shins wouldn’t fit under my favorite pair of jeans, a short-lived clothing crisis ensued. Stuck between loose-fitting pants or skinny jeans and leggings, I chose the latter —especially the dark colored kind.

During the winter months, the AFOs often blended in with my dark pants or remained partly hidden by a long dress or sweater. But as winter has given way to spring and less clothing, they stick out against my pale, chicken legs.

AFOs in sneakers

As I shopped for groceries last week in capri pants, their presence garnered unwanted attention. No one said anything to me, but their long, quizzical stares spoke volumes.

Not long ago, when my husband and I shopped for furniture, the knowledgeable salesman didn’t hold back, “So, how are your shins?”

Seriously? How are my shins?

Poor guy. He had no idea what was on my legs and why. So, I launched into my explanation: “I battle an energy deficiency disorder and my legs grow weak. I’m wearing AFOs, not shin guards. I’m not an overzealous soccer mom!”

While I’ve rehearsed my reply more than once, the reality is, a summer of quizzical ogling thrills me not. I want to be “normal.”

I succumbed to comfort footwear for all occasions years ago and felt insecure at times. But this shift runs deeper. I never see anyone else wearing AFOs in my corner of the world, even though they must exist.

So, in honor of us all, I plan to purchase a few skorts and on-sale bright colored tennis shoes. Maybe even a soccer goalie outfit. After using a walker for outings in recent years, styling as a sports fan has to have some merit.

If you see me strut by, be sure to look for the smile — not the funny-looking shin guards. And if you’re up for it, smile back. That sure would mean a lot more than your long, scrutinizing glare.