My feet were constantly sore. I tried everything. I swapped my Converse for Nikes; I donned an Ace bandage; I even soaked them in Epsom saltwater, but no relief. A trip to the pediatrician revealed I have Pes Planus, colloquially “flat feet.” My underdeveloped arch, which falls abnormally low and flat, causes mild pain in the morning, bad posture, and difficulty with physical activities (at least without lots of complaining). On some level, I welcomed the soreness. Validation from the doctor and worry from mom were my tickets to avoiding physical activities. Initially, this was a gift. My flippers, as my sister lovingly called them, got me out of anything. The days of worrying about being too slow on the tennis court or lying to avoid hiking fourteeners with friends were over – my flat feet shielded me from discomfort of any kind.
Unbeknownst to me, the end of my activities marked the beginning of my self-inflicted isolation. Trapped by my feet, I couldn’t exercise or play sports, so I gained weight. Since my friends were on the court, it was acceptable to be alone. In truth we all know that my feet weren’t that bad. In retrospect, I think I’d been looking for an excuse all along. Not being able to take risks or embark on new adventures was a relief. Being out of the limelight felt like a blessing. It was better to curb my experiences and have my growth plateau than contribute and fail publicly, even if that meant standing by as my relationships with friends and mentors deteriorated.
My grandmother’s visit was a wake-up-call. Every morning, she’d jog at a nearby track. She asked me to join her, and nonchalantly, I agreed. I could handle a geezer’s run, flat feet be damned. However, panting like a dog and drenched in sweat, I stood still, gasping as Grandma kept running. It dawned on me that this wasn’t unusual, everyone in my life kept moving while I stood still. Finishing her final lap, Grandma yelled, “God, even my grandmother runs faster than you!” My oblivion finally vanished, and the abyss of self-pity, regret, and boredom became palpable. I stopped rationalizing my weaknesses and forced myself to change course.
Historically, flat-footed fellows were barred from military service. Strategists reasoned that troops should march as one monolithic unit to be victorious in battle, and flat feet slowed down the unit. Determined to stop slowing myself down, I agreed to let my grandma take me to the Good Feet Store. Juxtaposed between a Mad Greens and a Party City, the store is where South Denver’s senior citizens get fitted for their orthotics. While they came to chat and kvetch about their pain, I came to get fitted for my orthotics and find my inner strength. Strengtheners, maintainers, relaxers – my feet’s holy trinity, soles for my soul. Standing taller, I began playing tennis and seeing friends again. My orthotics lifted my arches, and with them my spirits. Wanting to prove to myself that I could overcome my fears and insecurities, I pushed to engage freely with the world. I realized my curiosity was way bigger than my fears. I wanted more. Abandoning my flat life and becoming dynamic meant finding purpose. Life became exhilarating, and I believe I found my footing.
I wish I could say a pair of orthotics made everything perfect, but feet, and my life, are more convoluted. I thought success meant simply not being afraid anymore, but I realized that the act of re-entering the world and participating are what make me content. I’m no longer someone who makes excuses. I can’t promise my feet won’t trip me up again, but at least now I’m on the lookout for excuses and committed to showing up, standing confidently on my own two feet, and accepting inevitable challenges. Having learned all this, my feet and I will go far.