Amazing feat: Bowler rolls on despite club foot

Brenda Young

Sports have always been a mainstay in Hillary Anderzon’s life.

Whether it was soccer, basketball, softball, swimming or bowling, she has done them all despite being born with a congenital defect of her left foot. Her left foot is three sizes smaller than her right.

“When people find out about it, they find it more amazing than weird,” said Anderzon, who wears a size 7 on her left foot and 10 on her right. “They think it’s pretty cool.” 

Anderzon, a senior bowler and two-time captain on the Guilford girls team, is having her best season with hopes of helping her team earn a berth in the state championships.

“Not only am I having one of my best seasons, but my team is also,” she said. “It’s a win-win for both sides.”

Because of her medical condition, Anderzon’s left leg has less flexibility, which results in a less than perfect bowling stance. Most right-handed bowlers’ lead support leg is their left leg and foot.

“She has had to face the adversity of not only other bowlers’ snickers, but coaches as well because of her way,” Guilford coach Laurice Altenbernd said. “But she ignores the negative people and is always smiling, laughing and a constant support to her team.”

Laura Swenson, who shared captain duties with Anderzon last season, agreed.

“She really helps us out spirit-wise,” Swenson said. “When we are down, she really kicks us in gear with her cheering. She never stops cheering. She always cheers for us, even if we aren’t bowling well.” 

Anderzon won the team’s most improved bowler award the past two seasons. She improved her previous high game from 208 to 241 this year and her high series from 570 to 616. A four-year varsity bowler, she finished with a 150 average in the NIC-10 this season.

Teammate Emily Clevenger said Anderzon has been an inspiration.

“She is one of my best friends,” Clevenger said. “She has an amazing spirit. She brings a lot to the team, maybe not always in scores, but definitely with her attitude and the way she presents herself.”

Anderzon credited her family and her bowling coach for her resilience.

“My mom was my best advocate when I couldn’t speak for myself,” she said. “Now that I can, I know how to do it for myself. She always told me to find a way to get what I needed.

“And Laurice has a lot to do with how well I’ve done. She figures out what is best for what I can do as opposed to working with what I can’t do.”

Anderzon, 17, had three major foot surgeries with the first one occurring six months after she was born. She makes annual doctor visits with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in Chicago. Her left leg will remain weak and smaller and she will continue to wear a brace.

“She has had to endure physical pain that my other (two) children haven’t had to endure,” her mom, Nancy Anderzon, said.

“On the other hand, she has learned to advocate for herself. She has strong character. She has been blessed with the gift of faith, inspiration and intelligence. This was meant to be. It’s her challenge in life, yet good has come out of it.”

Anderzon plans to major in Biology at Illinois and hopes to attend medical school and become a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.

“I want to help kids the way I was helped,” she said.

Brenda Young can be reached at 815-987-1388 or

Finding a size

Buying new shoes can be expensive. But when your feet are two different sizes, it can double your bill.

For Hillary Anderzon, who has a club foot, the issue has been helped over the years thanks to stores such as Nordstrom, MC Sports and Bergner’s.

“We have learned which shoe stores will accommodate and give her one size 7 left shoe and one size 10 right, as opposed to forcing us to buy two pairs of shoes,” mother Nancy Anderzon said.  

There have been some stores that have given the family such deals as "buy one pair and get the other at half price," but there have also been stores that have refused to make any deals. 

That all changed one day when Nancy Anderzon walked into Nordstrom’s shoe store at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Desperately seeking a place to outfit her young daughter, Anderzon was pleasantly surprised she had no trouble in getting a pair of shoes.

“I asked them ‘Is this just today or all the time?’ They said all the time. No matter what kind of shoes,” she said. “They have been phenomenal to her.”

When Hillary Anderzon wants dress shoes, she goes to Nordstrom and when she wants to get bowling and other sports shoes she goes to MC Sports on Harrison Avenue in Rockford.

“They have given me a deal on bowling shoes,” Anderzon said. “I have bought Rollerblade and Nikes from them. One price for both sizes.”

What is club foot?

Club foot describes a range of foot abnormalities usually present at birth (congenital) in which a baby’s foot is twisted out of shape or position. The term “clubfoot” refers to the way the foot is positioned at a sharp angle to the ankle, like the head of a golf club. Club foot is one of the most common birth defects and is usually an isolated problem for an otherwise healthy newborn.

Treatment for club foot usually begins soon after birth and includes gently stretching the foot into a correct position and placing it in a series of casts. More severe cases of club foot might require surgery.

It occurs in about one in every 1,000 live births and affects boys twice as often as girls. Fifty percent of the cases of club foot affect both feet.

Source: Mayo’s Clinic

Famous people with club foot

Many notable people have been born with club foot, including Roman emperor Claudius, poet Lord Byron, statesman Prince Talleyrand, Civil War politician Thaddeus Stevens, comedian Damon Wayans, actors Gary Burghoff and Dudley Moore, footballer Steven Gerrard, advocate and poet Robert M. Hensel and film director David Lynch.

Kristi Yamaguchi reportedly was born with a club foot, and went on to win figure skating gold in 1992. Football player Charles Woodson and soccer star Mia Hamm were born with the condition. Baseball pitcher Larry Sherry was born with club feet, as was pitcher Jim Mecir. Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Freddy Sanchez cites his ability to overcome the defect as a reason for his success.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman also overcame the condition en route to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career.