Give your shoes a new finish line

As a competitive track athlete I go through a decent number of shoes in a year. I’m not running marathon mileage, but running six days a week adds up and every time you wear your shoes they lose a little of that magical oompf that you bought them for. Wearing cushioned, comfortable shoes is an essential part of my training regime that helps keep me injury-free (*knock on wood*) and I tend to replace my beloved Brooks Ghosts on a fairly regular basis. I must admit I’m a bit of a junkie for that new shoe feeling and I’ll jump at any chance to wear new kicks. So the question becomes: what should I do with my old shoes?

A few #shoefies of my 2018 training partners.

My sister Emma is quick to lecture me on environmental initiatives and wastefulness, so my awareness was heightened when I was tossing shoes that didn’t really have anything wrong with them. Sure, they’re no longer fit for elite training, but they look fine and could easily be worn for kicking around town. In fact, most shoes that have served a useful running life can be repurposed. I’m spoilt and I already have other shoes I’d prefer to wear when I’m not running, so that leaves my Ghosts a bit short changed on their life cycle. I know many people use old shoes to walk the dog, buy groceries, garden, etc., and that’s awesome. But if you don’t have a need for them… maybe someone else does? This is where Rackets & Runners and the Shoe Renu program swoop in and help me, my shoes, and – most importantly – those in need. shoe-renu-hor-logo-600x330.jpgThe Shoe Renu program was founded by the Vancouver Rotary Club and is made possible by the help of many partners including but not limited to: Rackets & Runners, Canadian Linen, and The Salvation Army. The program collects, cleans, and distributes used shoes to the less fortunate in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES) twice a year at “Shoe Renu Clinics”. I first heard about the program through Rackets & Runners as they’ve been collecting used shoes for years in-store. It’s a quiet program that hasn’t received much publicity, but those who know about it are impassioned and proud to support this great initiative.

Steps in the program:

  1. Shoes are collected at participating retailers (Rackets & Runners, Peninsula Runners ,and The Right Shoe are the main ones). All used shoes in decent condition with intact soles and no gaping holes are accepted. While running shoes are the most popular donations received, the program also accepts boots and walking shoes.
  2. The shoes are generously cleaned, and washed be Canadian Linen
  3. In preparation for clinic day the shoes are sorted by gender and size by volunteers so they can be easily accessed and fitted
  4. Clinics are hosted twice a year at the Harbour Light Shelter in the DTES. Volunteers set up, help people choose shoes, and hand out socks and lunches.

I don’t often hang out in underground parking lots, but when I do it’s to untangle old shoe laces.

When I asked volunteers why they were motivated to help out with the program many people sung a similar tune about giving back to the community. As I sat on the cold cement of the underground parking lot where the shoes are stored and untangling laces that had knotted during laundry, I felt a powerful sense of purpose. The shoes I was holding were someone’s trash, but they were bound to be treasure for someone spending the wet Vancouver winter without shoes. One of the volunteers spoke about gaining perspective and I had to agree. I’ve certainly been guilty of complaining that there are too many shoes in my house and I’ve purged closets with joy, de-stressing by reducing unwanted clutter. To think that many of us are commuting to IKEA to purchase hanging shelfs to accommodate excess while some people have nothing is heartbreaking. It’s not my intention to induce guilt, rather the perspective that if you don’t need something – chances are someone else does.

One of the most valuable takeaways from my participation at the Shoe Renu Clinic was the reminder that while it’s easy to get caught up in the performance aspect of running, there is so much more that the sport can offer. The same shoes that helped me train for personal bests and championship races can provide comfort to someone living on the street, waiting in line for meals at a shelter, or walking to find a dry place to sleep.

Brooks slogan “Run Happy” is about so much more than just running. It’s about giving back to your community, spreading joy, and enabling others. 

The sense of community I feel in sport is a subculture of many larger communities and I’m very proud to work with a company like Rackets & Runners which has taken the lead on organizing this program. I was especially impressed when I spoke with Vanda, the owner of Rackets & Runners, who has made the program a personal focus. She radiated excitement when she told me how the program had grown over the past few years and how the participation of podiatrists was enabling access to health care in addition to repurposing shoes. It’s in this spirit of community that we hope the program will continue to grow and offer hope and support to those in need.

How can you help?

  • Donate your old shoes and encourage others to do the same by collecting running and walking shoes at your place of work, recreational club, sports league, etc.
  • Come out and volunteer! You can call Rackets & Runners (604) 733-9211 to find out more about the program or message me on this blog or using my twitter handle @devanwiebe

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