By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Track and field athletes on the highest stage in collegiate athletics go through a lot of footwear in order to make sure they are performing at their peak.
The countless amounts of shoes used in collegiate track and field come at a price and, as Kentucky standout Luis Orta – the 2012 SEC Indoor 3,000 and 5,000-meter champion - one day realized, there is an easy way for the Wildcats to pay it forward.
“Luis came to me one day saying he was throwing away a pair of shoes and instantly felt guilty,” said Josh Nadzam, former Kentucky track and field athlete. “We change our shoes every 400-500 miles. Luis knew that the shoes might not be good enough for elite training, but they were still good enough for someone to wear, especially someone who was not able to afford shoes.”
Nadzam, Orta and Kentucky teammate Hiruni Wijayaratne are now into their third year of the UK Track and Field Shoe Drive, for which they have partnered with Soles4Souls. What began by word-of-mouth has turned into a well organized and highly successful annual effort.
“We kind of just did it on a whim, started sending out text messages and Facebook messages,” Nadzam said of the first year of the Shoe Drive. “Within a month, we had collected 2,100 pairs. We partnered with Soles4Souls, a non-profit organization based in Nashville. Each year, we collect them, drive them down to Nashville and ship them out to 126 different countries in the world.”
The 2013 event, which began on March 1, continues until May 10. There are several drop-off sites throughout the Lexington area. For those unable to visit a collection site, e-mail Josh Nadzam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“People have really loved it,” Nadzam said. “We do it once a year – we are now in our third year – and people are always asking when the next shoe drive is because they are already collecting. The support has been overwhelming. A lot of people have taken ownership of it and got their church or business or school involved.”
For Nadzam and his fellow organizers, the UK Track and Field Shoe Drive has allowed them to realize the meaningful impact that a small number of people can make. The first year shoe count was 2,100. The second year, the drive grew to include the entire Southeastern Conference and resulted in more than 13,000 pairs donated.
“It shows that it doesn’t matter how small the amount of people is, they can do huge things from just one little idea,” he said. “A lot of times, people think to do something really powerful, you need a lot of money or resources or people. But honestly, all you need is passion and effort to make things happen. There’s so much compassion and selflessness in our community and we’ve received so much support from [Kentucky athletics director] Mitch Barnhart, [Kentucky head track and field] Coach [Edrick] Floreal and [former Kentucky head track and field] Coach [Don] Weber.”
Student-athletes at the Division I level are forced to become experts at balancing time and all of the responsibilities in their lives. But, as those involved in the UK Track and Field Shoe Drive understand, it’s important to make time to give back.
“It does get hard at times running between classes and getting shoes, but it’s nothing compared to the inconvenience and problems that people experience in impoverished countries,” Nadzam said. “We may be stressed, but we still have so many resources and so many blessings. It is really important to give back to show how appreciative we are.”
To find out more information about the UK Track and Field Shoe Drive, please log on to http://www.uktrackandfieldshoedrive.com/.