My name is Kristina McCormick, and I am 27 years old. I’ve lived with Cerebral Palsy my whole life, but I’ve never let it stop me from enjoying the adventures that life brings. I have Spastic Diplegic Cerebral Palsy and enjoy wearing colorful socks with my AFOs, which I wear on both legs. I walk with one or two forearm crutches, depending on the activity, and live independently. Currently, I am a high school Spanish teacher and will soon begin my sixth year in the classroom. I recently completed a master’s degree from the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in Madrid, Spain. When I’m not studying or teaching, I enjoy walking 5Ks, swimming laps at my local YMCA, and traveling as often as possible. I’ve been through a lot in the last few years, but I hope that sharing my story about my transition to an Allard AFO can help someone else have the courage to make a positive change.
Big Changes Can Lead to Big Possibilities
For the last three years, I’ve been busy working on a master’s degree, teaching, tutoring, and rolling with the changes that the pandemic brought to my life. I also went through a lot of physical changes including lots of physical therapy and trying an Allard brace for the first time. I’ve always been a person who worked hard to be my best self, but my busy lifestyle caught up to me in the fall of 2019 and I realized that I needed to make some changes. I had just returned from Spain, and while I had been very active over the summer, I hadn’t been stretching enough. As the school year started, I noticed more pain, frequent falls, and was walking on my toes. When I went to get fitted for my typical plastic brace, my ankles were so tight that making the cast was near impossible. It was very difficult to put my foot in the proper position for casting. I had tight, weak ankles, and very tight hamstrings that were pulling on my back. My posture made it difficult for me to do much without back pain, and I was extremely hunched forward. My orthotist recommended some physical therapy, but also suggested working my way into a different, more lightweight AFO in the future. That AFO was an Allard ToeOFF® model. Working my way up to using an Allard AFO really became a goal for me. I knew I had my work cut out for me, but the Allard AFO was often in the back of my mind as I worked on ankle flexibility in physical therapy.
Fast forward two years, and after daily stretching and strengthening activities, I went to my orthotist to see about new braces. I had put a lot of miles on the plastic braces that I was wearing at that time, and my braces were needing to be replaced every few years. My activity level had increased a lot, which always puts more stress on padding, straps, and braces in general. It was at that point that we decided that it was time to try an Allard brace, which could last up to five years and longer. I had been working extremely hard in physical therapy, swimming laps in the pool, eating right, working with a personal trainer and just doing everything I could to take care of me, but it still came a shock to me that we had finally come to that point. Those two years of physical therapy were long and trying. I went through periods of back pain, balance issues, and sometimes found myself with a lot of frustration about the whole situation. I had great support from my physical therapist and orthotist throughout the whole process, and to realize that I had come to a point where I was ready for a new challenge made me happier than I can truly explain. I’m a different person right now than I was a few years ago, and my Allard AFOs have helped me to continue my journey to a stronger, even more confident Kristina.
Why Allard Braces?
Besides the fact that carbon fiber Allard braces can last beyond 5 years, there were several other reasons for making the switch to an Allard brace from my previous braces. The hope was that the Allard Toe Off could help me with ankle flexibility and strength, giving me a more natural gait. The curve on the bottom of the footplate helps support my foot in a heel to toe motion. With my tight ankles, putting my heel down all the way hadn’t been possible before. Using the Allard Toe-Off brace was a totally new sensation for me, and I remember telling my orthotist that I wasn’t sure how to stop while walking in the new AFOs for the first time. It might sound rather silly, but having so much ankle movement was new for me, and I felt like I was being propelled forward without any brakes. I quickly learned that I needed to move a little slower than I like to, giving my body a chance to adjust.
I’ve had my Allard AFO’s for about 7 months now, and it really has been quite a journey. I would encourage anyone wanting to try something new to be patient, because even though I love my Allard braces, I did go through some adjustments to make them work for me. I started out with calf pain and spasms after wearing the braces, because my ankles were working harder than they were accustomed to. I gradually built up to wearing the braces for more hours each day, and after communicating with my physical therapist, I started using an ankle stabilizer under my AFOs to help support my ankles. Currently I’m able to wear the braces without ankle stabilizers. Thanks to good communication between my physical therapist and orthotist, we tried different types of padding for the brace, along with different inserts to give me more support. This communication was key in tailoring my Allard Toe-Off’s to me, allowing me to continue with my fitness routine and build my confidence along the way. All in all, the process took several months, but it was completely worth it.
With my Allard braces, I’ve been able to continue working on myself and have set several best time records for local 5Ks here in central Illinois. As the summer winds down, I’m excited to see what I can do with them as I approach another school year and some future international trips.
Coming up to the finish at a local 4th of July 5K. I broke my previous record by five minutes, finishing in one hour and sixteen seconds.
Some travel photos from my summer in Spain for my masters in Spanish Education. I just graduated on July 21st:
La Puerta de Alcalá, Madrid.
The Alhambra view from the outside. A friend from college traveled with me that weekend.
Toledo, the former capitol of Spain.
For more about Kristina and her advocacy for awareness, please visit her on social media:
Radio show “The CP Chronicles”
Show runs every other Saturday at from 3pm CST to 4pm CST. We’re on a hiatus in July but will be back in August. The radio station is revamping their webpage, so a new listen live link will be available soon. You can still view all of our previous shows on Facebook.