Callen Walck: The Karate Kid Punches Through CMT Barriers

At age 12, Callen Walck has already progressed through ten levels and two years of training to achieve his Junior black belt in karate, despite the challenges of CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease). He’s now winning awards and mentoring others as he pursues his path to Senior black belt status.

CMT, the most commonly inherited neurological disorder, affects 1 in 2,500 people, causing nerve damage that often results in muscular weakness in the arms and legs.

Jamie Moulthrop, Callen’s mother, first noticed a problem when he failed to reach his developmental milestones as an infant.

“He still was not walking at 18 months,” she remembers, “so I talked with his physical therapist at Good Shepherd*, and she referred me to Emily (Mattole, CO, LO) at Lawall to have him fitted for a pair of braces. With those braces, he finally took his first steps without assistance at 27 months.”

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“He’s wearing a pair of articulating Tami2 DAFOs (dynamic ankle foot orthoses) that allow him to participate in all the sports and activities he enjoys,” Mattole explains, “and to achieve success and earn recognition for his amazing accomplishments. Not everyone can earn a black belt!  We were so excited and pleased to hear about it!

“I don’t see him with any limitations,” she concludes. “He’s just a really neat kid with a great attitude!”

Given the early orthotic support toward independent mobility, Jamie notes that Callen caught up to some extent with his peers. “There are still some things he’s unable to do and likely will never be able to do,” she adds. “He cannot run, he cannot jump, but he can—and does—speedwalk!” she laughs. “To me, watching him, he’s just a normal kid; I don’t pick out the stuff he can’t do. I push him to be the most normal kid he can be.”

That doesn’t seem to take much pushing: Parents, peers, physical therapists and Lawall practitioners alike have noticed his goal-oriented positive attitude and high energy level.

His parents have provided opportunities for him to stay active, and Callen has done the rest:

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“He’s played baseball at the Miracle League of Lehigh Valley since he was three years old, and he’s been playing Special Hockey of the Lehigh Valley, Polar Bears, since he was six, playing with a mixed group of kids, all with differing abilities,” Jamie says. “He also loves going to the beach and surfing with a program called Heart of Surfing, with volunteers who come out and surf with children with developmental and other disabilities.”

Callen has even shared his board with a surfing-therapy dog to help balance the board by shifting his weight as needed.

When the family—including his seven-month-old little brother—go for a walk, Callen accompanies them on his recumbent bicycle. The bike, received through the Great Bike Giveaway, allows him to pedal from a laid-back reclining position that distributes his weight more ergonomically, and places less stress on his leg muscles.


Karate by Callen: Doing It My Way!

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Callen’s interest in karate developed out of the blue about three years ago, when he asked Jamie if there were some kind of karate school that would be a good fit for him.

Action Karate in Quakertown was just that kind of school, where the leaders effectively adapt performance goals and work with Callen at his functional level, Jamie reports.

“The only thing they’ve had to adapt for him are some of the exercises he is unable to do—like pushups and sit-ups, for example. They allow him to do pushups against the wall; he can do squats instead of sit-ups. He must still do the required exercises, but they’re modified to match his physical capabilities.”

She explains that participants don’t spar with each other, “But he learns self-defense techniques that combine different types of punches. Students learn a new skill or combination they practice for three weeks before earning their stripe. Each student has to earn three stripes before he can advance to the next belt level, and each belt level achieved earns a certificate explaining the meaning of that belt color and level. Ten belt levels must be mastered before one can earn a black belt.”

Callen began his pursuit of the black belt in February of 2020—just before covid hit. It took him 2 ½ years to achieve his goal. As Callen begins the journey to earn his Senior black belt, his classes will again progress through the same ten colored belt levels, but from a Senior perspective.

So far, Callen has competed in 3 karate tournaments showcasing his weapon katas and punch combinations. He has earned a first-place trophy, two gold medals, and one silver medal.

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For Callen, karate builds confidence and character and recognizes commitment and self-discipline. It also offers him opportunities to mentor younger children aged 3-6 in the Ninja Sharks program.

It has also built a remarkably self-possessed, confident, and articulate young man who was recently invited to Moravian University, where he addressed a class of adult students studying to become occupational therapists—and provided answers, explanations, and insights into CMT treatment and methodology from a juvenile patient’s perspective—without a trace of shyness.

Aiming for the Stars?

In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Callen is a willing student, driven by a thirst for knowledge and answers; and he loves to read, observes Mattole. “He’s always got a book—always eager to learn and explore.”

Jamie reveals that he’s currently reading his way through the Harry Potter series—and is only allowed to watch the related movie after he’s first finished reading the book!

Currently, in 7th grade, his favorite subjects are math and science, so his adult career ambitions are not surprising:

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“He’d like to become either an architect or an aeronautical engineer—he wants to work for NASA someday!” Jamie shares.

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Mattole characterizes Callen as a high-energy kid with a positive attitude, a good family support system, and the energy always to push forward. “He’s awesome!” she marvels.

Jamie appreciates Mattole’s support: “Our relationship with Emily is very good. Callen has seen her since his first brace fitting and he loves joking around with her. If anything happens with Callen’s braces, she is always just a text or phone call away.”

Jamie admits that while Callen is a very high energy kid, “there are occasions when he’ll get down on himself—but it’s very easy to turn his attitude around quickly.”

Therefore, she stresses to other parents the importance of following the rule: “Negative Attitudes Not Allowed!”

“Be positive and be confident. Don’t give in to pressure from ‘experts’; do what you think is right for your child!” she encourages, while also cautioning professionals to “always listen to the parents—they know their child best.”

Might Callen have advice for others dealing with CMT challenges similar to his own?  Jamie answers for him: “Callen’s message whenever he talks to anyone is, ‘Don’t give up on anything that’s put in front of you. Adapt it, find ways that you can complete the task. You may need to do things differently, but you’ll still get it done! Find your own solution; create your own pathway.’”

Sounds like good advice for all of us!

*Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, Allentown, PA

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