The Doppler Takes Europe

This summer, my family embarked on an action-packed 10 days in London and Paris. It was my daughter’s first trip out of the country so, peak tourism season be damned, we hit up the major sites. That led to a lot of walking and standing. My leg/ankle/foot, aptly named “The Doppler” due to it’s weather predicting capabilities, were definitely feeling the effects.

Traveling with an ankle fusion means dealing with constant pain and swelling. I have to plan sitting breaks and find ways to prop up my foot when it starts “talkin’ to me.”

Basically, the Doppler is a fickle travel buddy.

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Paris at night

Our family travel style is hit-the-ground-running and get the most bang for our buck. We prefer to use public transportation, for the experience and to spare some costs, so there is a lot of walking involved.

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Long trek to the apartment. Hubs took over my bag.

Lugging suitcases through the streets, standing at bus stops, up and down stairs to the subway, hustling to catch a train – they all add up to a rich experience but it takes a toll on my foot.

I was putting in no fewer than 18,000 steps and 10-20 flights of stairs per day. I had at least three consecutive days of 20k steps. I developed a blister on my toe during the last few days of our trip. I began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with our fast-paced adventure. It’s challenging enough on healthy feet! I didn’t want to be the one holding us back.

I took a breath and tried not to stress. Here are a few things I did to save my feet:

Footwear. This is obvious but key. It’s tricky to coordinate my “comfy” shoes with travel outfits, especially when your shoes are complicated like mine . When going to the theater or out to a nice dinner, I’m not going to wear my tennies. A few months back I bought silver img_9123Birkenstocks, which are basically my version of a dress shoe. Those in rotation with a tennis shoe and a pair of Adidas gave me options for different looks yet still comfortable.

Rotation. I tried to pack light but I need shoe options. My foot feels different everyday so it’s hard to predict which shoe will feel good on any given day. I typically pack three — one pair in my carry on, one in the suitcase and I wear a pair on the plane.

Changing shoes throughout a day of sightseeing was helpful when I felt blisters coming on. If I wore tennis shoes during the day, I would put the Birks on at night. Many times we were gone all day, so I brought an extra pair with me. A little bulky in the backpack but worth it.

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Summer rain in London

Soaking. Luckily we had bathtubs in both of our Airbnbs. After a full day of traipsing around the city in hot weather (not much A/C in Europe) I would get home and run cold water over my feet. I would follow that up with a soak in warmish water for 10 minutes*.

*Epsom salt would’ve taken my soak up a notch. Adding a cup or so a warm bath helps with pain and swelling. 

Elevation. I like to elevate my leg at night to reduce swelling and promote good circulation. This was especially necessary when we spent hours walking through the Louvre and touring the Palace of Versailles.

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Tourists at Versailles

Piggybacks. Last but not least, my husband is a true Boy Scout. He carries my bags and always holds out an arm when I’m climbing stairs or hopping off a bus. Most importantly, he offers piggybacks anytime, anywhere. 90% of the time I don’t partake (I’m embarrassed). However, by the end of our first full day in Paris, day six of our European trip, I took him up on it.

End of a loooong day

We were almost home and I couldn’t muster another step. I hopped on, skirt and all,  and was so grateful that he is always game (and our daughter is always ready with her camera).

When I was injured at 23, I thought I was facing a life of wheelchairs, scooters and sedentary activities. Doctors told me I’d deal with chronic pain and walking difficulties for the rest of my life. I never thought I’d be able to enjoy traveling.

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Sitting a spell

My car accident happened 15 years ago today.  It’s the Doppler anniversary! I do face chronic pain and walking difficulties. However, I’ve learned a few things: life goes on, you adapt and try not to sell yourself short.

Plan trips; Test your limits; Sit when you need to.

And never turn down a piggyback.

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Shoemazing

My Converse were done and ready for action in one week!

ONE. WEEK.

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Having a Queer Eye moment lately

Sierra Shoe Repair definitely worked faster than shoe gal #3 but the real question was: How did they look and, more importantly, feel?

Answer: Awesome and awesomer!

What really blew my mind was that he uses a material imported from Italy with prefabricated with a rocker. Instead of measuring, slicing and shaving a hunk of EVA into a smooth rocker by hand, he cuts the mold to fit the sole, then glues it to the shoe. It comes prefabricated with a tapered toe for ankle movement.

The mold before it’s custom fit for my shoe

What?! That’s genius!

I was really caught off guard that something like this existed. In the 15 years since I began my shoe journey, I’ve never had an orthotic company or podiatrist mention it to me. It seems so efficient!

Tapered to perfection!

Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t believe I never thought of it!

This ready-made form saved me time and frustration. I’ve spent hours in an office working with an orthotist (or two) to get a rocker smooth and the lift height correct. A typical shoe fitting went like this:

  1. Try on my half-finished shoe and walk around for about 15 minutes to feel where it needed work.
  2. Try to clearly communicate the feelings in my foot so that they could make proper adjustments.
  3. Orthotist makes adjustments in the workshop.
  4. I wait in the room 30 minutes.
  5. Try it on again and tell them where it still needed work.
  6. Orthotist takes it back and makes additional adjustments.
  7. Wait another 15-30 minutes, hoping that I explained it correctly and it’s right.
  8. Try on again and (fingers crossed!) take it home.

The process wasn’t only time consuming but also expensive. Insurance does not cover my lifts so I pay out-of-pocket for each one. At $75 a pop, plus the cost of the shoes, it get’s pricey.

I have to say I was ecstatic to pay my local cobbler. It took about 10 minutes to pick up my Converse at Sierra Shoe Repair. I put them on, expecting disappointment. I was shocked when I felt perfection.

Apparently somebody perfected the shoe rocker and my new cobbler knows all about it. Mind. Blown.

I’ve finally found my shoe magician. I’ve already taken him a second pair.

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He said “shoemazing” right?

 

 

 

 

Wanted: Shoe Magician

If I’ve let on that finding a magical pair of shoes is the hardest part about dressing a fused ankle, it’s not.

Finding someone who has the skills to shape them into something I can wear is the real challenge. This has become a big issue for me this past year.

I found my first “shoe guy” in 2005, a couple of years after my injury, when I started to walk again. He owned an orthopedic and prosthetic company for years and taught me how to manage my ankle fusion through footwear — what sole shapes to look for, the best brands to use, ideal materials, etc. I worked with him over 10 years and we came up with some new twists on the old orthopedic shoe varieties.

Then he retired. The nerve, right?

I was referred to a different orthotic/prosthetic company and was shocked to find shoe guy #2 on the first try. Bonus: He wasn’t even close to retirement age. He modified 4-5 pairs for me. They’re some of my favorite shoes to date.

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Some of my lifted lefties

Last summer I heard through the grapevine that shoe guy #2 had gotten into some trouble. After a quick Google search, I found his mug shot. The accompanying article included a messy tale involving impersonating an officer and assault with a firearm.

WTF?

Needless to say he no longer works at that office. So began the hunt for yet another shoe guru. I talked to local cobblers and met with another prosthetic company but ended up back at office #2. (stay with me here)

Unfortunately, they were scrambling to find a qualified replacement for the alleged criminal. They hooked me up with shoe gal #3. She was green and I was her Guinea pig.

I brought in two pairs of shoes that ended up under construction for over two months. She really wanted to get them right. She listened to my concerns and specifications — she even brought in reinforcements! Unfortunately, they aren’t great but I gave up and wore them anyways.

Shoe gal #3 and I never found our shoe groove.

This year I’m back to square one. After feeling overwhelmed and frustrated for the last eight months, I’ve recently found a shop that has me hopeful.

I dropped off my new pair of Converse with the cobbler/owner of Sierra Shoe Repair and saw no trepidation in his eyes. That’s a good start. A lot of local cobblers will do shoe lifts or “build ups.” I haven’t had good luck with them in the past but I’m willing to give it another try.

I’ve known about Sierra Shoe Repair for a few years. They’ve been around Fresno for awhile but recently made some changes when the previous owner was tragically killed. They talk about it here.

The eldest son now owns the shop and it feels legit. Rockabilly music, antique sewing machines and framed photos of Italian relatives make for a unique and welcoming vibe. Along with lifts and repair, they also craft custom shoes and handbags using materials imported from Italy.

My shoes will be ready this week. I’m excited but nervous that I might have to start from scratch again. Will this be a disaster or did I just find my shoe magician?!

I’ll keep you posted.

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Extra points for having adorable business cards

Hello, Lover

I’ve spent a most of my adult life in comfortable (a.k.a. boring) shoes. This is not by choice but a necessity.

My hunt for a functional yet stylish shoe is exhausting. Whether it’s shopping or dressing up or packing for travel, I do not enjoy thinking about what goes on my feet. I feel I’m part of a small minority of women when I say that shoes are a constant source of stress in my life.

Ever since Carrie Bradshaw declared her love for Manolos, it seemed shoes became an integralgiphy part of a woman’s personality. Putting on that perfect shoe could make you feel confident, sexy and stylish. I mean, you may not fit into last year’s jeans but you can still feel hot in those heels!

Shoes have the opposite affect on me.

I’m rarely compelled to recite terms of endearment to a pair of my shoes. I actually get anxious spending too much time in the shoe department and typically ends in cursing, self-loathing and a pity party in the middle of Macy’s.

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SAS comfort shoe (I don’t actually own this style)

My options often feel so limited that I’ve been known to throw in the towel and go to SAS. If you aren’t familiar with anything from the SAScollection, picture your school lunch lady. It’s humbling to find yourself buying the same sandal as an octogenarian.

I try to think of it as a fun game of who wore it best.

I could easily spend my life in orthopedic shoes, but I refuse to go down like that. I’m a young, 30-something woman for God sakes!

I have to carefully and methodically shop for shoes. Here’s my checklist:

  • Shape of the sole must be flat and square and thick. No stacked heel or wedge or slight incline. My shoe magicians specialists need enough sole to slice it down the middle, or sand it down, to adhere a 1/2″ lift (my left side is shorter than the right). Then they shave the lift into a “rocker” shape so that I roll smoothly through the forefoot. This makes up for the lack of movement in my ankle.
  • Material of sole. EVA is a workable material and I’ve become pretty good at feeling the soles of shoes to see if they make the cut — literally.
  • Secure. My foot is pretty rigid and the left is 1/2 a size smaller than the right. I usually buy to fit the bigger foot so a shoe without proper support leaves me slipping and sliding all over the place.
  • FASHIONABLE. This one’s tricky.

All of the criteria can be overwhelming so to keep it simple I will buy the same style in different colors. Recently I replaced an old pair of Chuck T’s. Modified 11 years ago, these classics were long past their prime so I found the same shoes in a super cute color.

OK, maybe I do get a little excited when I find a new pair of shoes. (wink, wink Carrie Bradshaw)

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I’m aware that my shoe stress may come off a tad dramatic or even vain. But think about your feet — they affect every aspect of your life! So, my concerns are more than a lack of stilettos in my closet.

Healthy feet, by way of comfortable, supportive shoes, give us the opportunity to fully live our lives. Finding accommodating footwear since my accident has allowed me to walk for hours exploring New York City; Dance in the streets of New Orleans; Wander the cobbled canals of Venice.

We are traveling this Summer so I’m getting new footwear ready now. I took the above Converse to a shoe cobbler in Fresno that I’ve recently discovered. I’m feeling hopeful with a sprinkle of anxiety. Stay tuned for my review on this latest shoe magician.

Next time I’ll get into my previous shoe guy — he was a doozy!

Shoe Hustle

Walk a mile in someone’s shoes.

I think about this sentiment sometimes when I’m hustling to find a new pair of shoes. If you slipped on a pair of my sneaks, you’d be lopsided and probably dread shoe shopping as much as I do.

I’ve had a problematic gait stemming from a car accident in 2003 that crushed my left leg and ankle. I’ve had 11 surgeries over the last 14-plus years. Early on they added metal and screws to fuse my shattered ankle joint. The fusion was to alleviate some of the chronic pain I’d have for the rest of my life.

It’s mostly helped…except when I have to find shoes.

That fused joint is the reason I have to modify all of my left shoes with a 1/2″ lift. My left leg is shorter than my right and has little to no movement. Because of that rigidity, I also need a tapered, or “rocker,” sole to make up for the lack of mobility in my ankle. The lift and rocker are necessary in all of my footwear. This is done by a professional shoe orthotist or cobbler (more on them in a future post).

Here’s a look at the operation:

I’ve spent hours scouring the internet, hunting down various shoe sites in search of something that can undergo this type of transformation. It takes a critical eye and a lot of trial and error. But if I didn’t have all of my shoes modified, I couldn’t walk very far without a lot of pain and a very apparent limp.

I buy about 2-3 pairs of shoes each year. I’m looking for a new pair right now. Something cute and comfortable that I can wear when we travel this Summer. It’s frustrating but I keep reminding myself it’s not impossible.

It just takes a little patience…and a lot of hustle.

 

 

 

Sweatin’ to the Newbies

Anyone interested in getting high? High on fitness!download

(Warning: puns continue)High-Fitness-Logo-1

High Fitness classes are the latest craze in my neck of the woods. People of all ages are going gaga over this action-packed aerobics class. I hear it mentioned at the gym, see it all over Instagram hashtags #aerobicsisback, and the sweeping line to get into a class is impossible to miss (I’m talking 80-100 people waiting in line for a class on a weekday morning!).

I’ve been waiting for the right time to give this new school aerobics class a try. When my spunky, talented dance fitness instructor (apparently they don’t call it Zumba anymore?) said she was subbing a class over the weekend, I knew this was my chance.

After asking around and doing a bit of research, I learned that High Fitness is a high intensity, high energy aerobic workout incorporating simple choreography set to a variety of contemporary music. Here’s an explanation from the High Fitness pros:

The creators boast about people getting “addicted to the high,” and from what I’ve seen, that seems accurate. The Fresno Bee got wind of it last December, writing about its popularity at our local gym, GB3.

My endurance is pretty good right now from all that dance fitnessing. I thought with some slight modifications I was ready to give it a try. Bring on my new favorite workout!

My first mistake was not getting up early enough on Saturday morning and strolling in with only 5 minutes to spare. There were probably 60-plus people in the room and all the good spots were taken. I squeezed myself into a spot on the side where I could barely see the instructor or move without the fear of hitting someone. I was constantly craning my neck to see tiny Tiffany way up in the front, while myself and the other late arrivals tried to follow along smashed up against a weight rack.

Tip: There are some dance studios and “boutique” fitness studios that offer High Fitness in a smaller space i.e. smaller classes. That’s a good option if you don’t want to deal with crowds.

But that was all logistics so I tried to power through…

The music was good. A fun mix of pop and hip hop from the past couple of decades that appeals to many age groups. It’s definitely one of the most appealing elements of the class. Spice Girls, anyone?

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Photo credit: highfitness.com

Tiffany has great choreography, and her High class was no different. Moves were sassy and vibrant, working well with the music. You can get the hang of them quickly. It’s a lot less dance and more squats, burpees and jumping mixed in with a few aerobics classics. I imagine retired (or current) cheerleaders love this class. It had that peppy, athlete vibe.

I like a good pep routine but overall, I have to say I’m not down with High.

I couldn’t finish the hour. The moves were too intense and although they offer modifications, I was frustrated by the number of changes I had to make. I really wanted to love this class but found my limitations distracting. I saw people of varying ages and abilities happily modifying moves but that’s just not me.

Shining a spotlight on my inabilities takes the fun out of workouts for me. I don’t want to feel weak; I want to feel empowered.

In the end, I held strong for 40 minutes until my toes started to throb. They were operated on last summer and now a good indicator when I’ve gone too far. One thing this experience showed me was that I’ve finally learned to listen to my body. I no longer push myself through that type of pain — even when my ego is trying to convince me otherwise.

Sorry, High Fitness, I’m just not that into you.

 

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Yoga on the Cheap

Summer is in full swing and it’s been tough keeping up my regularly scheduled fitness. Between work, travel and occupying a constantly bored teen, my yoga practice has been slippin’. It’s difficult to make my favorite class on Saturdays and I can’t rationalize shelling out cash for drop-ins at local studios. I’m forced to get creative.

Enter: my quest for free yoga on YouTube.

I have been mining YouTube for fitness gems for years. DVDs get repetitive and I prefer to mix up workouts. YouTube is perfect for this. Here are some of my favorites for an inexpensive yoga fix:

Yoga with Adriene: She’s a good mix of crunchy but not too granola. Whether your aiming to feel more energized, relieve stress, or focus on specific parts of the body, beginning and advanced yogis have many options with Adriene.

 

Tara Stiles: Tara Stiles is pretty amazing to watch. She’s tall, thin and ultra flexible — but don’t be intimidated. She has a lot of short videos for varying levels. She’s my go-to if I only have time for a 10 minute routine in the morning or before bed. She moves quickly so having some yoga knowledge under your belt helps.

Shiva Rea: These videos aren’t the highest quality but they get the job done. I like the Shiva Rea approach; it’s challenging, a little intense and well paced. She makes me feel all spiritual and s**t.

Yoga House: If you want to learn or perfect specific poses, check out Yoga House. They have a variety of short videos showing you how to get in and out out of various asanas. The video quality is good, just ignore the random passersby in the background.

 

Last but not least, my favorite cheap yoga find is at Lululemon. They offer complimentary community classes on most Sunday mornings before they open for business. It may seem odd to practice in a retail space but it’s surprisingly serene. Classes are led by different local teachers each week. It’s a great way to check out new instructors without paying for a class. I follow Lululemon on Facebook to keep track of weekly in-store events.

Also, free classes take the sting out of buying $100 yoga pants.

Namaste.