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Life lessons from my sneakers

“No!” I wailed as the manager of the Running Room store brought out a pair of black sneakers. Their mesh top rested on some seriously high rubber soles. They screamed 'practical.'

LeBron James would love these, but for me, still a fashionista in her 70s, the store manager may as well have been asking me to slip my feet into a couple of canoes.

I had just visited, Andrea, my pedorthist. (I simply call her my reality check foot fairy.) I had been seeing Andrea in her orthotics clinic for years, starting when I first noticed problems with my feet in my 50s.

On a trip to Italy 17 years ago, I was drooling over a pair of Italian shoes in Sienna. As the young female assistant measured my right foot, she exclaimed, 

”Oh signora, what a beeeg onion you have.”

“It doesn’t hurt,” I lied as I crammed my bunion into the sexy, stylish, silver shoe. (That's it, in the picture, going toe-to-toe with a 'sensible' sneaker).

Two years later my “onion,” and its new partner now forming on my left foot, were seriously interfering with my walking and dancing. That's when I sought the no-nonsense wisdom of Andrea.

“You need wide shoes. You need rigid heel cups. And you need rollers.”


“Yup. That when the sole of the front quarter of the shoe is off the ground, so when you walk, you kinda roll forward. It will relieve the stress on your bunions. And, oh, you also need orthotics to align your feet properly.”

The first time I wore shoes with ‘rollers’, I was bending to untie them and rolled head first into the front hall closet. And so began my secret affair with orthotics and ‘roller’ shoes. No way was I going tell people about my ‘elder’ shoe accessories.

But over the years I slipped off the ‘roller’ shoe wagon. I started buying fashionable shoes again. And I didn’t update my orthotics, something you should do every two years. My feet were back in fashion, but I developed shin splints and my two ‘onions’ screamed in pain. 

It was time to see Andrea. It was like a confession. “Ahhh, Andrea, it’s 6 years since my last check up. Not my fault though. Remember, there was a pandemic, but I think my orthotics are old.”

“You think?” Andrea was flapping my orthotics back and forth like a handful of wet noodles. They had come unglued and were clearly worn out.

I got the lecture again, about the kind of shoes I should be wearing. To reinforce the message, Andrea gave me drawings of sensible shoes, ordered new orthotics, and sent me off in search of relief.

So here I was shopping for wide shoes, with a rigid heel cup and rollers. I looked at the sneakers in the manager’s hands. They screamed “old lady.”  I ignored him, and pointed at a stylish red pair.

"Not rollers."

"How about those pink ones?"

"Not your size."

He pushed the black ones a little closer. “Just try them.”

I did as I was told. Wasn’t I always telling people to try something first before condemning it. I stood up in the new shoes. I walked around the store. I could practically hear my feet sighing with relief. I was walking on air. Everything in my body relaxed. They were the most comfortable shoes I had worn in a long time.

I felt I could walk forever, which was a good thing because next month I’m going to Poland to meet the family I only discovered last year, and then to England to visit my current family.

I bought the sneakers and named them the-get-over-yourself shoes. I am an older woman. My feet have changed over the years but they are still supporting me. I will thank them by supporting them with proper footwear. 

As I floated past all the fashionable shoe stores in the mall in my new sneakers, I understood fashion will change, my feet will change, but I will always have a choice over the way I roll through life.

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