My name is Darren Smith. In November of 2002, I had a spinal cord injury during a surgical procedure and as a result, I have residual weakness in my left leg, including foot drop.
Just before my injury, I purchased a new chiropractic practice and I was loving life. During the summer of 2002, I took up the sport of triathlon. During that time, training for endurance racing, I had lost a lot of body fat and a soft tissue mass on my back (called a hemangioma), stood out like a sore thumb. I went to a specialist and was scheduled for a procedure to embolize it. They said they couldn’t remove it because it has so many blood vessels feeding it, I would have bled out before they could control it, so they tried a procedure that would essentially put small ball bearings in the feeding vessels, which would cause the mass to die off.
Well, that didn’t work and I woke up completely paralyzed on the left side and I lost all feeling on the right, below my waist. Over the course of a few months, I learned to walk again and I was given an Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO) that, although customized to my leg, did not fit in any shoes I had, and was very clunky. I hated that brace. I still have it and I use it to show students when I am guest lecturing at a local college on the subject of disabled athletes.
Anyway, because I didn’t like the brace, I didn’t use it. I found that cowboy boots acted in a similar fashion, so I wore those most of the time. My wife hated those boots so I started wearing regular shoes and just walking carefully. My dress shoes were very heavy and when I wore those I would catch my toe and trip.
About a year after my injury, my life was almost back to normal except for the foot drop. As a result, I decided to get back into triathlon competition after finding the Challenged Athletes Foundation. This organization awards grants to disabled athletes for things like equipment, coaching, and traveling to sporting events. At the end of their fundraising period they even host a half iron distance triathlon called the San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC). I took it upon myself to train for that event and even though I could not run at the time I had a good coach that made my program manageable. On October 31, 2004, I finished the SDTC in just over eight hours. After this triathlon competition became my life. I competed in three triathlon’s in 2005 and went back to San Diego the next year, finishing an hour faster than the prior year. In November 2005, I signed up for IRONMAN Florida. After training for six months I finished my first IRONMAN triathlon in 15:20. Two years later, I finished my second IRONMAN competition in Canada. While it took a little longer due to its mountainous climb throughout this course, unlike the pancake flat Florida course, I was proud to once again compete. The same year I also represented Canada at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships, in Vancouver BC, where I finished in sixth place.
During all those races, I used an ankle brace. I tried a few types of braces and the one that was easiest, but not necessarily the best for foot drop, was the Active Ankle. While it was helpful for lateral stability, which prevented my ankle from breaking, I still tripped a lot while racing and training.
While competing in XTERRA USA, in Ogden Utah, I met Craig Vogtsberger who was also a disabled athlete who was experiencing the same type of disabilities that I had over the last few years. After the race I spoke to him about the brace that he was using. After a few details and a few months later, I once again encountered my new friend at the Portland Airport. During this time, he let me try out his Allard BlueROCKER, and I was completely hooked. This thing was amazing!! Not only was it helpful in preventing tripping, it also added a little spring to my running gait.
Of course, I wasn’t racing at this time so I kept forgetting that I needed to research it further and find out if my insurance company would cover this brace. After I was selected to represent Canada for a second time at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships, in Budapest Hungary, I knew that I needed all the help so I once again began my research. I finally got my first BlueROCKER two days before a prior triathlon competition – XTERRA Portland. I wore it for about half of that race only because I didn’t prepare properly. I brought my Active Ankle on the run course and changed after the first lap after realizing that I needed a sleeve or some other barrier between my skin and the brace. I had one more race before I left for Hungary, XTERRA Canada National Championships in Whistler BC and I didn’t wear my BlueROCKER during this race either because I didn’t want to damage it before I went to Europe. Big mistake!! I tripped numerous times on the run course but thankfully, I wasn’t hurt. Since then, I have never been without an Allard brace.
After going to Hungary and using my BlueROCKER I had my best race ever, where I finished four minutes faster than my previous best time. Of course, I attribute at least three minutes of that to my new brace.
I stopped competing in triathlons in 2011 to focus on Para-cycling, in the hopes of representing Canada at the London Paralympics. After not having any luck with this type of competition, in 2012 I returned to competing in paratriathlons. After, I had my best year after winning my category at the Canadian National Championships for the fourth time and winning the ITU PATCO (Pan American Championships) in 1:22:00, which was my fastest time ever.
After signing up for the Portland Rock n Roll Half Marathon, in 2012, I ran into Beth Deloria. I recognized her name and her story from the Allard website when I was doing some research on my brace. We talked forever and probably could have talked for longer but we both needed to rest up for the race. After keeping in touch with Beth, she told me about her idea that would later become TeamUP. I was very interested in spreading the word about my brace and helping others to “Get Back Up” and since then, Beth and I have competed in six races together.
It seems my weakness has lessened over the years and in 2014 I gave the ToeOFF 2.0 AFO a try at a 5K race in North Carolina and loved it. The flexibility of the brace versus the Blue Rocker is just what I needed and I am looking forward to competing further far into the future. And that’s all I have to say about that!