Running a mile in their shoes

Athlete collects over 100 pairs of sneakers to donate to youth in his native Kenya

To John Kuto, running shoes represent the American dream.

That’s why he’s collected worn ones to send home to Kapsabet, Kenya.

He’s flying the running shoes to his former mentor, Peter Rono, the 1,500-metre Olympic gold medallist in 1988, who runs a camp for prospective student athletes from poor backgrounds who are hoping to secure scholarships in the States.

“Running is part of life in Kenya. Kenyans are known to be the best runners in the world, so running is like life for them,” said Kuto, who hopes the used running shoes help students continue to strive for scholarships when most give up. He talks about how when women can’t afford to go to college, they may be forced into marriage, or after graduating high school, men return to their village to work on family farms.

Though Kuto knows the running shoes won’t last forever, helping an athlete train for a few months at most, he is hoping their impact will last.

“If a pair of shoes can keep those dreams alive, then that means life to somebody.”

Kuto, a high-performance athlete who competes in cross-country for Saint Mary’s University, decided to take on this initiative when he saw some of his friends throwing away their used running shoes and others using a pair for a single race.

“It just amazed me, because there’s some people back home who just walk barefooted and run barefooted because they cannot afford (running shoes),” said Kuto.

So in February, Kuto began collecting the old running shoes from his cross-country teammates.

His original target was 20 to 40 pairs, but he found collecting them hard to fit it into his busy schedule. The third-year criminology and forensic science student works 12-hour shifts four nights a week as a patient attendant, and already struggles to find time for cross-country training.

So he created a drop-off spot at the Homburg Centre for Health and Wellness at the university where runners regularly attend the gym.

Operations manager Kathy MacFarlane was happy to help, even suggesting Kuto appeal to the general public, as “people always have old sneakers at home.”

The response became overwhelming as the bin continued to overflow. Soon the target of 40 running shoes became a heap of nearly 400.

“When we were helping him load the van the other day he was almost in tears,” said MacFarlane. “He was like, ‘Oh, people are so kind and so generous,’ and it’s nice to see that because we don’t always see that here.”

He originally planned to store the sneakers in his bachelor apartment until three Kenyans, competing in the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon in May, could take them back with them. He now needed more space, and his longtime friend, Luke MacDonald of Aerobics First, was there to help.

The two became friends when MacDonald supplied Kuto with running shoes after finding out he could not afford to keep a continuous supply as they wore out easily in Canada’s harsh climate.

MacDonald is storing the footwear in the basement ski shop of Aerobics First, packed in six hockey bags that were donated to the cause.

But running shoes weren’t all that was donated. Cleats and casual footwear found their way into the drop-off bin.

“He wants to hit the pure runners but he also knows there’s a lot of homelessness here,” said MacDonald.

So Kuto is spreading his kindness, sending the soccer cleats to Gambia and giving the rest to those without shoes in Halifax.

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