ATLANTA — Runners wear a lot of different things during the AJC Peachtree Road Race – costumes, flags – you name it!
The one thing everyone wears is a good pair of tennis shoes.
One day, while training for the race, a sight along Peachtree Road inspired a runner to take off his shoes and give them to someone else. That one action became his life’s work.
“Once I hit the bottom of Cardiac Hill, I started my praying,” Bobby Johnson said.
Cardiac Hill is known as the toughest part of the race: the sneaky, heart-pumping hill by the hospitals on Peachtree Road. It was here training for the race, where the hill named for what it does to your heart touched something in Bobby Johnson’s.
On Cardiac Hill, right at the opening to the Shepherd Center, Johnson pointed and said, “Do you see that wall over there? This one particular day, I look across at the wall and there was a homeless guy without shoes.”
So, Johnson slipped off his size 15 sneakers, handed them to the man, and walked home barefoot. That was in 2001.
“I remember what it felt like to give him a pair of shoes,” he said. “Just the joy he had on his face for just being able to have a pair of shoes to put on.”
It was a moment of instinct that started him down a journey much longer than a 10K race.
“From that point on, it’s something I did as a hobby at first,” he said.
He started by putting collection boxes in running stores across metro Atlanta. It began as a one-man shoe drive called Eco Sneakers collecting slightly worn running shoes that are repurposed for people in need.
“It [was a] snowball effect into greater things,” Johnson said.
By 2012, Johnson decided to quit his job and run Eco Sneakers full-time. To date, he’s collected more than 400,000 shoes. Now running stores like the Big Peach expect his weekly visit to pick up the donated shoes.
“Oh, I’m just looking forward to getting them a home, getting them to where they belong: on someone else’s feet,” Johnson said.
This year, he’s expanding and building a factory along Marietta Boulevard where he’ll be able to grind the shoes that are too tattered to be given away.
“This is where we’re going to have machines, have a grinder here, have a sanitizer to wash the shoes,” he said.
Eventually, those tiny bits will become stuffed animals and bean bags.
His journey that began on Cardiac Hill still has no end in sight.
You’ll find Eco Sneakers at the Peachtree Health and Fitness Expo every year, but there are collection boxes in local running stores year-round.
Abbadabba Cool Shoes
- Johnsons Ferry
- Buckhead (near West Wieuca)
Big Peach Running Company
- Johns Creek
- Peachtree City
- Ansley Mall
- Sandy Springs
- Northside Drive
Big Dog Fleet Feet
- 11th Street Downtown Atlanta
I Play Tennis
- Ansley Mall
Atlanta Track Club
- Local Office/Events