7,000 Pairs of Shoes Donated for 2019 World Games Athletes

Longtime athlete and Special Olympics employee organizes initiative to address a global need.

“When you have on a good pair of athletic shoes, you walk in confidence.” That is according to Kester Edwards, who has learned this by experience. Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, he often had to put cardboard in his shoes to cover up the holes, if he had shoes at all.

Kester being video recorded by a vidographer and boom mic operator. They are standing on a shoreline and water is in the background. Kester has on a Special Olympics Nippon black t-shirt.
Kester Edwards in Trinidad and Tobago being filmed by an ESPN crew for the Game Changer video series.

Those memories, together with his experiences as a longtime Special Olympics athlete, motivated Kester’s initiative to bring 7,000 pairs of shoes to Special Olympics athletes at the upcoming 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi. The 500 Global Ambassadors and high level influencers will receive shoes as well.

Four drawing of sample shoes with a special design in honor of the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.
Drawing of sample shoes with a special design in honor of the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.

Kester, a manager of Sport & Health at Special Olympics International, says, “During a past World Games, when I saw some teams from Africa that had teammates sharing the same shoes, I thought ‘I have to change this.’ It is about more than comfort. It is about health.” Kester goes on to explain that when athletes share shoes, they can spread foot fungus. When they wear the wrong size shoe, they can damage their feet and other body parts.

The Special Olympics Fit Feet program provides foot, ankle and lower extremity screenings to Special Olympics athletes, who often lack access to quality health care. The screenings have revealed the following about Special Olympics athletes:

  • 50% have gait abnormalities
  • 53% have skin and nail problems
  • 21% have bone deformations
  • 51% of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. are wearing the wrong size shoe

To help combat these issues and to turn 7,000 shoes from a dream into a reality, Kester teamed up with Olympic long-jump record holder and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Bob Beamon and Pierce Footwear. Bob, who traveled as a Special Olympics supporter to such places as the that Cayman Islands and St. Kitts and Nevis, made his record setting jump 50 years ago, the same year that the first Special Olympics games were held.

George Piece (on the right) and Bob Beamon (on the left) speak at the Southside Occupational Academy High School in Chicago. Two athletes are in the background watching George and Bob present the shoes to an audience.
George Piece (on the right) and Bob Beamon (on the left) speak at the Southside Occupational Academy High School in Chicago.

The 2019 World Games shoes feature Pierce Footwear’s lace-less design developed to save time, for ease and for performance. The founder, George Piece, made this video about the company bringing 2,000 shoes to the 2017 Winter Games in Austria.

Kester, Bob and George also teamed up this summer to donate over 300 pairs of shoes to Special Olympics athletes in Chicago during the Special Olympics 50th anniversary celebration in July 2018.