FOCUS: Best foot forward
For the first time at a Special Olympic World Games, every single athlete is being given free sports shoes. Read the amazing and very personal story behind the program…
A comfortable pair of shoes to walk around in. This is something that almost all of us take completely and utterly for granted. But for some of the athletes attending the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, having comfortable footwear, let alone any footwear is something that is just not guaranteed.
Kester Edwards, a former Special Olympics Athlete from Trinidad and Tobago is one of the people behind the drive to make sure that every single athlete who is attending these World Games is given a free pair of running shoes. What’s more, the shoes created by Pierce Footwear, which feature the name of Olympic world-record long jumper Bob Beamon, are designed to be simple and easy to put on and take off by athletes with intellectual disabilities. They feature a single, simple clasp.
A man on a mission
After a head injury when he was six years old, Kester took part in many Special Olympics sports – following his grandparent’s advice to ‘just keep moving’ and inspired by the phrase ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’. He specialized in open water swimming and then developed an interest in triathlon, crediting Special Olympics with dramatically improving his life.
But it was at the Los Angeles World Games, when he witnessed visiting athletes, forced to train barefoot, that he knew he had to do something – he had to get rolling, he had a new mission.
“I went to watch the basketball, me and [my coach] and we saw players from developing countries and when they came off the basketball court they had no shoes,” he recalled. “I was like ‘No, no, no! we can’t be having, in 2015, individuals who don’t have shoes for themselves’.”
“I had to do something about it. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but we said we can’t continue to have this.”
Connection and conviction
Fortunately, with a sense of serendipity, just a day later, Kester ran into the perfect person to help him develop this desire to change things into a full-blown mission.
“I bumped into George Pierce in Long Beach because unified triathlon was going on and he told me about his footwear brand. He heard me speaking to someone, and he introduced himself to me as a former Olympics athlete.”
George too had been in an accident that left him immobile and meant after a long recovery, that when he took up triathlon, he found he struggled to tie his shoes during transition (swapping from swimming to cycling or cycling to running). This had led him to set about designing shoes that would be easier to take on and off for himself, and ultimately Special Olympics athletes.
Recognizing their kindred spirit the pair decided to set their sights on the Special Olympics Winter Games in Austria and managed to provide no fewer than 2,000 athletes with free footwear - even providing shoes to a number of athletes who have severe deformities of the feet.
“I wanted my design to make a difference, not just be another sports shoe,” George told this blog. “This design makes foot access easy, it closes easily and does not put pressure on the top of the foot,” he said referring to where the majority of the nerves are found.
‘For me, this was personal’
“I want to share with you my personal story,” continued Kester. “I didn’t have shoes when I was in Special Olympics or I had shoes but I only had two pairs of shoes. I had my church shoes, to go to church in, and my school shoes. And those shoes were cheap, the soles were soft and we would wear those shoes to school and work from January to December and it would start to rain, and by November/December I would have to put cardboard in my shoes.”
“For me this was personal, and that is why I told folks that I might be pushing this hard, but I am pushing it because I am now in a position to finally help the ones who are coming up behind me, I cannot forget them. I know how it feels.”
Sitting in the Healthy Athletes Hall at ADNEC and seeing the unbelievable expressions of joy on athlete’s faces as they are fitted with their new shoes and start jumping up and down on the spot or taking little jogs around the hall, we witness how it feels too.
“Usually, athletes would not use a new shoe in a race, but these athletes have been trying them out here in Abu Dhabi and getting their top scores. I am very thrilled at the results. These athletes deserve to be outfitted in the same way as any elite athlete,” concluded George.
Each shoe being given out to athletes for free at the World Games has the inspiring motto emblazoned on the inner sole: “Beamonesque - Doing something completely unexpected and being completely amazing, coming out of nowhere with great excellence involved.”