These boots aren’t made for walking with a disability

FA affects all aspects of this columnist's life — even rodeo season

Kendall Harvey avatar

by Kendall Harvey |

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A recent struggle has been bothering me, even though, logically, it feels silly to get worked up about it. In the big scheme of things, it has no real impact on my life, yet it’s another reminder that I’m not in control of my body.

My latest woe is about cowboy boots.

I live in Austin, Texas. Contrary to what might come to your mind when you hear “Texas,” I am not a cowgirl by any stretch of the imagination, and Austin is more big city than ranch land. I have never owned livestock; my Great Dane, Hank, is probably the closest I will ever come to it.

I have friends who own ranches, compete in rodeos, and own horses at stables, but I can’t claim to be a cowgirl in any way. I just appreciate the lifestyle, cheer on my friends, enjoy country music, and love being around all animals.

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Springtime in Texas means rodeo season. Most of the big cities like Austin, Houston, Fort Worth, and San Antonio host rodeos between January and March. They have livestock shows where people get to showcase their animals, as well as petting zoos, carnivals, rodeo competitions, and usually a country music performer.

As a mother of young kids, this is always a fun time of year. We try to go to the rodeo every year, and the schools usually do some rodeo-related activities. This provides a fun excuse to ditch my usual sneakers for cowboy boots and get into the country spirit of things.

Enter FA

The only problem is Friedreich’s ataxia (FA). Because of FA symptoms like poor balance, loss of coordination, and peripheral neuropathy, I can’t walk in many types of shoes. I knew that FA would make high heels and flip-flops an unsafe option for me as my symptoms progressed, and I made my peace with that. I just didn’t realize that FA would also exclude cowboy boots from my wardrobe.

Something about the heels and the way my feet move when I walk makes them an impossibility for me.

This year, I was determined to find a pair of boots that I could safely wear. I am all too aware of the clock ticking on the weeks, days, hours, and minutes I have left to be ambulatory, so I want to make the most of that time. For me, that means not only being as safe as possible so that I don’t jeopardize that time, but also enjoying it.

As silly as it may seem, wearing cowboy boots is a fun way to enjoy rodeo-themed activities, in my mind. So, starting in January, I began researching boots in preparation for rodeo season. I bought five different pairs to try.

My heels were sliding around too much and walking was too unsafe in every pair I tried. I tested out the final pair when we were on our way out the door for the rodeo last weekend. I was desperately wishing for a Cinderella moment where they would fit perfectly, especially because my precious 6-year-old daughter, Collins, was sitting right beside me. The trendy white faux leather boots fit well, and I asked my husband, Kyle, to come spot me as I took a few test steps in them as a precaution.

I am sad to say that it was not a Cinderella moment. They, too, felt unsafe. Another box to add to the return pile. I was so disappointed as I boxed them up. Collins asked why I wasn’t keeping them to wear to the rodeo, and I explained that even though they fit, I couldn’t walk safely in them.

“Sometimes I just wish my body worked normally so that I could do and wear what I wanted,” I said. “Sometimes it’s just hard being in this disabled body.”

Collins simply patted my knee and said, “I bet so, Momma. I’m sorry. I love you.”

Once again, she knew just what I needed in that moment. I didn’t need someone to fix my problem or try to cheer me up, but just to recognize it and empathize.

Maybe the next pair of boots I try will be “the ones,” or maybe my boot-wearing days are behind me. Either way, I plan on enjoying the rodeo for as long as I can.

Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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