When one runner laces up his shoes at the Akron Marathon Saturday morning, there will be a powerful message attached to his final cross over the finish line. He’ll be wearing shoes designed by an 11-year-old cancer survivor.
“These shoes aren’t shoes to be sick in, they’re shoes you can get well in,” said Andy Shepperd, founder of Project Outrun.
The non-profit organization was formed to give patients at Akron Children’s Hospital an opportunity to design and customize their own Nike shoes.
“Have kids design their shoes, their colors, their messages. Whatever empowers them to outrun whatever they feel like is chasing them.”
Shepperd created the program after running in a 5k race in Copley in honor of a young girl battling cancer. He designed a shoe for Kylie Rose Jacobs, 8, to match her logo. Since then, Shepperd has raised money to purchase shoes for several children, including Maddux “Madd Dog” Maple, 11, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 5. Maddux struggled to walk following chemotherapy treatment. Now, he says he has outrun cancer.
“Here I am today, three years into my 5-year remission,” said Maddux.
Kyle Kutuchief, Akron program director for the Knight foundation, bought Maddux a pair of shoes that he would design on his own with the help of Nike’s website. Kutuchief then asked if Maddux could design another pair for the upcoming Akron Marathon race. Maddux accepted and designed a bright “highlighter,” yellow shoe with a red Nike Swoosh.
“[Maddux] said the sweetest thing to me when he handed them to me,” said Kutuchief. “He said he hopes that they make me happy and I’m going to need that happiness towards the end of the race to cross the finish line. I’m really honored to be running in a pair of shoes to be designed by him."
Why did Maddux choose bright colors for Kutuchief’s new shoes?
“Bright makes me feel like you’re happy and you feel good about yourself,” said Maddux.
Kids in the program also create and customize their own finish line, writing in their goal, to symbolize being able to outrun a challenge ahead.
“We can’t walk the walk for them, but we can walk the walk with you and that’s what I plan on doing,” said Shepperd.