When she first stood up in new athletic shoes provided at a health screening in Warsaw, Poland, Jennet Sopyeue smiled broadly and gave Fit Feet Clinical Director Carine Haemels two enthusiastic thumbs up. No wonder.
Athlete Jennet Sopyeue from Turkmenistan received her free Nike athletic shoes from Fit Feet Clinical Director Carine Haemels.
A land-mine blast she suffered years earlier had heavily damaged the bones and muscles of her legs and feet. A Special Olympics athlete from Turkmenistan, she had come to the 2010 Special Olympics European Games wearing only sandals on her feet. As at many big Special Olympics events, the organization's Healthy Athletes program conducted free screenings in a variety of health disciplines.
For Jennet, the gift of athletic shoes from Nike will have an enormous impact on her life.
“They will give her more comfort and in the longer term, this will result in less pain,” Haemels said. “They will also prevent long-term injuries.”
Haemels and volunteers from Nike selected and fitted a men's sneaker for Jennet because the support in the men's shoe was better for her particular needs.
Incredibly, this was not the first time Haemels had seen a land mine injury while volunteering with Healthy Athletes. “We are not used to asking if an injury could be from a mine, but these kind of threats are still present in some regions. I tell our trainees to remember that this is something they have to keep in mind,” she said.
Nike donated almost 1700 pairs of shoes for athletes, in addition to paying the travel expenses for two of its employees to come to the Games. Ilse Mensch and Nathalie Merlotte were selected as the two employees out of 1600 permanent employees at the European distribution center in Laakdal, Belgium to attend.
In order to be selected, they had to apply and explain why they wanted to volunteer. Both were already active in their communities, and Nathalie had a neighbor with an intellectual disability and had previously volunteered at an institution. But this was their first experience with Special Olympics.
"Everyone here is so motivated, even these highly educated doctors,” Nathalie said. “It makes me feel honored to be part of something where all of these people are taking time away from their jobs and their lives to give back in such a meaningful way. It has been great to be exposed to athletes representing these different cultures, languages, and countries.”
Ilse said, "Many are wearing shoes that are the wrong size. Some of their feet are bent. Everyone is getting a pair of shoes and when they smile and say that the shoes don't hurt it makes me feel like we are doing something really important."