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Feb-2007 - Thinking outside the shoe box

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Thinking outside the shoe box

BY MARIA HSIN

The Orange County Register


LAKE FOREST, Calif. - Every spring, summer and fall for the past three years, Stefanie Etow has collected used running shoes. Almost 900 of them. The 18-year-old had read a story in Runner's World magazine about a nonprofit organization that sends used running shoes to different parts of the world. She became intrigued.

"I didn't feel I had to do it," the cross-country runner said. "I was interested in it, I checked it out and it's been an incredible experience." When Etow saw the article, her coaches had just encouraged the team to change their running shoes - a common request because changing shoes often can prevent leg injuries. She contacted her teammates, the boys track and cross-country teams and coaches. Etow was soon collecting running shoes to send to One World Running in Boulder, Colo. The shoes were then shipped to Mexico, Ecuador, Africa, Honduras and Haiti. "I thought it was just a great thing," said her cross-country coach Gil Garcia of Santa Margarita High School. "It showed a lot of caring for other people, and being in a Catholic school we hope that's what students will aspire to." The Lake Forest resident's efforts have benefited runners, encouraged health and wellness and promoted good will between countries, said runner Michael Sandrock, founder of One World Running. In Haiti, children may not attend school without shoes, but most children cannot afford them because of rampant poverty, Sandrock said.

"There are kids who are 18 and still in the third grade because they can't afford shoes, not because they aren't smart enough," he said. College students and runners from around the country have donated, Sandrock said.

"Stefanie is probably the only high school student organizing shoe drives on a regular basis," Sandrock said. "That's pretty unique. It shows a lot of leadership and maturity. She's thinking about other people around the world, not just her isolated little world."

Etow organizes the shoe drives around the running season, collecting shoes after summer training, in the fall and when track season ends in May. The high school senior machine-washes the shoes and then uses a hair dryer to dry them because a clothes dryer can melt the glue.

At first, Etow struggled to find a way to ship shoes to Colorado, but then she made contact with Lance Ungerman at UPS in Aliso Viejo, Calif. For the past three years, Ungerman, a community services supervisor, has covered the cost, about $60 a shipment. "We don't normally do free shipping," Ungerman said. "But we made an exception for what Stefanie was doing."

Etow began collecting shoes over the holidays for a recent shipment. She made an announcement when school started this year and track and cross-country athletes, their families, other students and faculty contributed. Etow and her mom, Chris, lined up about 200 pairs of running and dress shoes and took them in three boxes to UPS on Friday morning.

The newer running shoes will go to runners while the dress shoes and more worn tennis shoes will go to schoolchildren. Running shoes that can no longer be worn are ground up and used for track turf. Sandrock said Etow's shipment is scheduled to go to an orphanage in San Ignacio, Belize, Feb. 15. Etow plans to attend the University of Notre Dame and wants to continue her shoe drives. "The experience of involving other people and seeing their reactions has been really cool," Etow said. "I don't know why I would stop. It's really practical - I'm just collecting shoes. And I can do that wherever I am."

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