Picture of Shannon Poortenga

Shannon Poortenga

HI, I’m Shannon Poortenga from Kalamazoo, MI. It’s so hard to know where to start with ‘your story’ especially for those of us that love to write. But I do feel that a little background is always important.

From the time I was young, and while growing up thru middle and highschool, I was always very active. Basketball, volleyball and softball were my sports of choice. I also started playing a little golf as a teenager too. I became less active in college mostly because of my schedule and just not making it a priority anymore.

When I graduated from Western Michigan University, in 1991, I decided to make Kalamazoo my home. After which, I eventually met my husband Brian and we married in 1999.

In my mid-thirties (and several years into recovery from bulimia and dealing with depression) I decided I wanted to become a runner! Why? I have absolutely no clue – it just sounded cool to say “I’m a runner”. Well running NEVER came easy to me. I hated every second of it, but just kept torturing myself because the one thing that running did help was in the area of my depression. I’d finally found something that helped me feel somewhat normal again.

So, what do I do? I join a local run camp and decide to train for a half marathon. Why take it slow? It was brutal – and I finished that race second to LAST (police escort and all), but I finished!! I then decided, with a friend, to train for a full marathon with Team in Training. Throughout all of this my hip pain had become unbearable. I’d seen several doctors, OT’s, PT’s, chiropractors, etc. Finally, when I was just one month away from running my very first marathon, I found a specialist who informed me that I had bilateral hip dysplasia. At the age of 36-years-old, I sat in his office and cried like a baby when he informed me that I would not be running the marathon I trained for, and that I likely wouldn’t run again due to the damage of my hip joint. That following year (2006) was spent having two reconstructive pelvic surgeries.

Fast forward several years (and several pounds due to inactivity, depression, etc) and the lower back pain started to set in. Again after several doctors, physical therapy and chiropractor appointments it was determined that I had a herniated disk at L5-S1. I went in for an injection and couldn’t help but notice that my left foot was acting funny. I ignored it, but a few days later, on a Saturday, I called my doctor and told him about my foot and was sent to the emergency room. While being examined, I was told that I was suffering from foot drop due to something pressing on my nerve and I would need surgery. That’s when I had my first discectomy/laminectomy at L5-S1, to try and save my foot.

After this procedure, there was a bit of improvement in my foot so I was happy. Exactly four weeks into my recovery, my entire left leg and foot went dead. My disc had reruptured at the same location and I was taken in for immediate surgery, another discectomy/laminectomy at L5-S1. This time, they were not able to save my foot. With little explanation (and no answers as to whether or not I’d walk normal again), I was sent home with a script to get fitted for an Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO) to support my foot drop.

I had no clue what to do or how my life would be after this. I was devastated, but I found a local orthotist and was fit for a cast-like AFO. This orthosis was so stiff and I just couldn’t believe I’d have to wear this for the duration. It barely fit into one of my tennis shoes, so I went to a specialty shoe store in town where a young guy mentioned that there were less cumbersome AFO’s out there. He knew one was made by a company called Allard.

The minute we got home, I began a Google search for Allard and was taken to both this company’s website as well as to a story about Beth Deloria. At this time, the Get Back Up campaign hadn’t started and TeamUp didn’t exist. Because I was too depressed to do anything – my mother jumped in, got online and did everything that she could to find Beth Deloria….and SHE DID! After she spoke with Beth and told her my story, Beth then called me – and it was like speaking to myself on the other end of the phone. She understood EVERYTHING that I was going through, including the depression.

Beth hooked me up with a District Manager from Allard who actually came to my house to show me their ToeOFF brace. I remember when I tried it on – and WALKED……..virtually normal. I cried. My parents cried, the District Manager even got teary. It was amazing the difference the Allard Brace made in being able to walk more normal (not to mention fitting into more shoes than I originally imagined).

That day was a game changer for me and it was soon after that, that Beth and Allard started the Get Back Up Today campaign and TeamUP was born. Since then, I’ve had two more spinal surgeries, including a fusion, but my foot has improved. There are even times that I don’t need to wear my brace, but I always do when I know I’m going to be on my feet a lot, exercising, or even when I am fatigued.

I’d love to run again one day, but don’t know if I will – because of my other spine and hip issues. What I do know is that I can live normally. I got back up and I still have a lot more ‘Getting Back Up’ to do. I’ve walked some 5k’s and I plan to continued doing so. This was an emotional roller coaster for me and my family, but Allard (and Beth) embraced me like family and that’s why I’m so proud to be a co-captain for TeamUP. I don’t need to be a runner, or even an athlete. I’m just happy that I can go out and get the mail, walk my dogs or even golf without tripping and falling. I’m just blessed to have found Beth and now want to help to make a difference for others. Know that you CAN Get Back Up, no matter what!