In 2016, Joel Kiernan was inspired to start the Green Bay Shoe Closet because of his teammates on the Green Bay East cross country team. A friend of Joel’s listed off the reasons various athletes were injured that season. One reason stood out: “He didn’t do anything wrong to get his injury. He’s only injured because his family can’t afford running shoes. His brother had the same issue.” Injury plagued the athlete for over two years. Even with the deficit, he could run a mile in under 5 minutes, leaving teammates wondering what he could have done with appropriate shoes.
Two of every three students qualify as economically disadvantaged at East High School. As a result, many runners cannot afford proper running shoes, and instead ran on the same worn pair year after year. Most athletes accumulate mileage in excess of 300 miles a cross country season, effectively the lifetime of shoes. A single pair worn for any longer than a single season can cause a variety of injuries.
Moved towards action, Joel began applying for grants, officially starting the Green Bay Shoe Closet. Since then, the Green Bay Shoe Closet has supplied a total of 33 pairs of shoes to students athletes in need, ensuring that economic standing is not a barrier for participation in cross country.
The Green Bay Shoe Closet levels the playing field for student runners in need, opening up the benefits of running.
Helping students to participate in cross country creates a unique community for them. Cross country teams are especially supportive. Teammates pass each other on a run, and call out, “Keep it up!” Even different schools support each other, exhaling “Good job,” when passing in a race, or a finish line “Congratulations!” Runners rely on teammates for encouragement in workouts and races. Thus, cross country fosters an especially tight-knit, positive team culture.
Running pushes athletes beyond their comfort zone, requiring runners to persevere through difficulty. Thus, running teaches enduring life skills, such as persistence and hard work. Teammates often recount stories after races of an overwhelming part of their brain declaring, “You cannot finish.” Because of running, student athletes are intimately familiar with this pessimistic part of their brain. Yet, runners learn to reply to that same part of their brain, “Yes, I can push through.”
Multiple studies (such as this one from the University of Cordova) suggest that participation in co-curricular activities improves students’ grades. Through ensuring continual participation in running, the Green Bay Shoe Closet supports the academic performance of students who might otherwise not have the opportunity to participate in running sports.
The ultimate goal of the Green Bay Shoe Closet is to expand to all high school running teams in the Green Bay Area Public Schools (GBAPS). This will require significantly more funding, and will also allow us to reach many more student athletes of poverty. By expanding to all Green Bay high schools, we will enable many more students every year to run. Through this expansion, all high school student runners of poverty in GBAPS— about 130 students— will be empowered to participate successfully in distance running sports.