I never considered myself a sneaker person. In my 20s, it was always motorcycle boots, cheap heels and ankle boots from Zara that looked more expensive than they were (at least I thought they did). Then every once in a while, I would wear a cool sneaker that was gifted to me by a brand – always something colorful, like a metallic Air Jordan or a pair of turquoise Reeboks that I would wear with a jumpsuit. It’s not that I don’t respect the culture around sneakers, I simply excuse myself from it because I don’t quite understand.
I’m so removed that I don’t think I’ve ever in my life actually purchased a pair of sneakers until September 2021. It wasn’t a random thing, though. They were a surprising gift to myself, something I had to work for and research and know I was going to use.
A few months before I got them, I started trying to run. It was a late quarantine habit, but it happened nonetheless. My anxiety was reaching a tipping point where I was constantly just feeling bad, but athletic pursuits were not my go-to. In the past, exercise was not something I could stick with. I tried gym memberships, and I hated the feeling of standing on a machine surrounded by people I don’t know. In classes, I would spend the entire first half hour praying that the teacher wouldn’t call me out for doing a move wrong, or worse, put their hands on me to try to adjust my position. And running, well, I never really thought I could.
Until one day, when I woke up feeling awful. Not physically, really, but just emotionally so over the monotony of my own feelings. So I dug in the back of my closet and found a pair of gray Puma sneakers that I got on a press trip to Miami a few years back. I put them on along with some leggings and a t-shirt and walked to the park. At first, it felt like every single person was silently laughing at me, aware that this was the first time I was doing this. Like they were ready for me to get to the end of the block huffing and puffing before I turned back and gave up on all of it. But I took a step, then another, and then slowly I bounced my way to the end of the block. I walked another, then I picked back up and ran some more, suddenly realizing I didn’t really care about the dad walking his dog, and he certainly didn’t care about me. The next day, I was excited to try it again, and it was the same thing. A few blocks run, a few walked.
By week four, I was very much in it, but my shoes were not. I had never really considered that you may need a different type of sneaker for each activity until a throbbing pain in my knee let me know. I was sad to put away the gray pair that had quickly become caked in dirt and mud from the random water spills trickling down from the park I ran past (it’s New York City, it could be anything — I’m not even going to try to guess), but I knew it was time.
I researched and eventually found a reliable pair of red running sneakers with lime green details. I put them on with an all-black outfit, and laughed as I looked at myself in the mirror. “A runner?” I questioned as I thought about that old viral video of the girl falling in the snow as she said it was the “perfect” weather for a jog. I didn’t feel like one, but somehow with the help of those two little pieces of rubber and cloth, I ran 200 miles in just a few months. I ran a race with my friend and beat my goal time. I felt myself come out of some of the anxious despair that had been plaguing me the few months before, and I smiled as I ran past little kids wearing costumes on Halloween. I ran to meet a friend for outdoor breakfast when the subway didn’t feel super safe with the virus, and I ran until I cried on a day where it all felt like too much. All the while, those red shoes stared back at me, helping me get from one step to another.
Now, I realize this is an extremely sentimental several hundred words to talk about a pair of shoes, but they changed my life just enough in the last few months that it’s worth the note. It's not about the brand either – the technology and needs vary from brand to brand. As this week in New York feels terrifying and I have the privilege to run in them once more, I think about where they will take me next, and how, hopefully, the pair of shoes running past me in the opposite direction this morning made that person feel a little better today too.