Going the extra mile with running shoes

College students donating footwear for Kenyan athletes

August 26, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Freshmen at Western Maryland College this year are bringing the usual -- backpacks, notebooks, photographs of mom, dad and the dog.

And -- at the college's request -- a pair of old running shoes.

The school has joined a nationwide effort to collect used footwear and donate it to young athletes in Kenya, some of whom do not have access to good shoes and often practice barefoot.

Based in Houston and launched in 1995, the Kenya Shoe Expedition collects thousands of shoes annually -- mostly from track teams and running clubs -- cleans them, and ships them to Kenya, where running is the national sport.

Today at Western Maryland College, the parade of over-stuffed station wagons and vans carrying the college's 480 new students -- freshmen and transfers -- arrives in time for student orientation that runs through Sunday. Classes start Monday.

One of the first questions newcomers will be asked by orientation staff: Did you bring your shoes?

"I'm going to go up and down the lines of cars, collecting shoes in a big bag or a box," said Laura Russell, associate director of reunion programs and a member of a newly created "spirit committee" at the college.

The committee was formed to foster camaraderie among incoming students, beginning with the Class of 2003. On Saturday, students will gather at 10: 30 a.m. in the quadrangle in front of Gill Center to build a sculpture of shoes. Russell said she has no idea how many shoes will be donated.

What she is sure of, however, is that participants better tie shoelaces together before the sculpture is built -- or spend the remainder of orientation rematching pairs.

Faculty and staff also received postcards encouraging them to donate. Local residents would not be turned away if they arrived Saturday to add to the mountain of shoes, organizers said.

Donated footwear that is not appropriate for the Kenya program -- shoes that can't be used by runners -- will be given to Westminster Rescue Mission.

The Kenya Shoe Expedition was founded by Adam Reiser, who initially ran the program from his dormitory room at Rice University in Houston, but expanded into his parents' garage in Houston and finally into a warehouse.

Last month, Reiser, a sales representative for Reebok in the Northeast, traveled to Kenya to deliver his biggest shipment -- 10,000 shoes -- to young runners.

Reiser, 24, who ran track at Rice, was visiting Kenya in 1995 when he saw youths training without shoes.

"It made me think that I probably had 15 pairs at home in my closet that I didn't wear anymore," he said.

Doug Renner, track and cross country coach for men and women at Western Maryland, saw an advertisement in Running Times magazine for the Kenya program several months ago and decided to participate.

Renner said top runners at Western Maryland may run on a pair of shoes for four months -- that translates into about 1,000 miles of running -- then head to the shoe store for replacements.

"When the shoes start getting dirty and looking ratty," Renner said, "most will switch -- before they actually need to."

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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