Life After D-Day: Taking Steps to Be Outside
Editor's note: When we can be a part of helping a child who was told they would never walk independently again get out into nature, it means everything to us. We love seeing how the roomy fit of our kids' Targhee boot can accommodate braces and orthotics, and help get kids outside. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jennifer!
By Jennifer Allen, KEEN fan and founder of Wonders Within Reach
“D-Day” is a fairly common euphemism for “diagnosis day.” It’s the day when everything changes. It’s the day we’re yanked from “normal” and thrown into “other.” It’s the delivery of a diagnosis that, for at least a moment, makes it feel like our world is imploding. Nothing can ever be the same, again.
I remember the day I found out my son would never walk independently. I went into the doctor’s office with my mind rushing, wondering what was wrong and how we would make it right. Then I found out… and there was nothing I could do to change anything. My mind slammed on the brakes and moved into slow motion. I wasn’t able to process anything. I couldn’t see what our future looked like, and when I tried to think of all the things I used to think our future would hold, I couldn’t see how to get there.
D-Day was only five years ago for me, but it feels like a lifetime ago. Looking back, I can almost laugh at how limited I thought we would be. After sitting in shock for a couple of days, I determined to stop focusing on the problem and find solutions. I couldn’t tackle our whole future in a day, so I decided to pick one thing that was a top priority, and start there.
Step 1: Connect With Nature
I started with hiking. Being outdoors makes me feel alive. I know I’m not alone in this. Time outdoors reduces stress and anxiety, fights off all sorts of illnesses, and even helps you live longer. It’s literally good for body and soul, and we long for it – whether we recognize it or not! My body and spirit were mourning the loss of nature, before I even pinpointed what it was. I needed to be able to get all of us outdoors.
It started with an all-terrain stroller. We struck out a few times, but found the Bob Revolution rolls like clouds across pretty rough gravel. It was also the best thing we had for sand.
And just like that - we were outside, again! That wasn’t so hard, was it? The types of trails we could take on were a little more limited, but we were back on the trail, in the mountains, and hitting the beach. That was just the bit of success I needed to keep me going. I began learning that our family can still do most things - we just do them differently.
We tried the KEEN Kids Targhee and discovered the missing connection between nature and orthotic.
When our son got a little big for the stroller, we transitioned to an all terrain wagon and a child carrier (NOT a baby carrier. My Freeloader is weighted for up to 75 pounds). Our Veer wagon is a beast. It’s not always a smooth ride, but we hauled that thing over boulders and tree stumps and anything else that dared stand in our way. For anything that involved climbing more than hiking, we used the carrier. At this point, our son was still too young to manage a trail independently with any equipment, so we weren’t impeding on his freedom by toting him around. For older children and adults, there are special needs pushchairs.
By the age of four, Jaden was able to do very short walks with forearm crutches and his orthotics. He was also fitted for his first wheelchair. With this new independence, our approach to the outdoors took another shift. At this point, we only do smooth trails that he can navigate with his wheelchair, or very short trails that he can manage with his crutches. We find accessible trails through AllTrails or searching the rail trail maps. It can also be helpful to search for stroller-friendly trails, since those usually meet the same criteria.
Step 2: Find shoes that can accommodate braces
This newest stage of independence brought on one more equipment hurdle: footwear. My five year old has never been able to wear a pair of rain boots, and his snow boots are four sizes bigger than his foot size to accommodate his braces. His braces are exceptionally wide, so even traditional adaptive footwear doesn’t work for him. He doesn’t fully pick up his feet to walk, which means even before we started doing trails, he was completely shredding his shoes in just a few weeks’ time. We would stock up on cheap sneakers from Walmart and just switch them out every few weeks.
We tried the KEEN Kids Targhee, with little expectation, and discovered the missing connection between nature and orthotic. We didn’t have to order up in size anymore than we do for his regular sneakers, and he’s been wearing the same pair for five months now. The waterproof shoe has enough flex to get them over the unforgiving plastic brace, and the hard rubber base is sturdy enough to take anything he can dish out (which is a lot).
Step 3: Keep putting one foot in front of the other
I’m not going to say that I’ve uncovered all of the answers and now live in eternal sunshine since we’ve discovered ways to get outdoors. We still face obstacles. Getting on the trail requires more planning, and meets with more disappointments (if the one accessible trail is under construction - we’re out of luck!). What I will say is that I’ve discovered it’s always worth the effort. It felt daunting to begin, without knowing where to start. I remember that overwhelming feeling that we were going to be stuck in our playroom for the rest of our lives, but I also remember the equally overwhelming sense of joy and relief when we hit our first trail as a family. I knew that we were going to be ok.