— Igor Vovkivinskiy is a big man with a big heart. A very big heart. It’s literally twice as big as the average person’s.
From the perspective of most people, Vovkivinskiy is a giant. At 7-foot-8.33 inches tall, he’s the tallest man in the United States, and he’s been dealing with a colossal problem: He can’t find shoes that fit.
Vovkivinskiy isn’t even sure of his shoe size anymore; he hasn’t been able to buy shoes in a store since he was a teenager. His inability to find footwear that truly fits him resulted in 16 surgeries on his feet in the past five years, leading to foot deformities and constant pain.
So, Vovkivinskiy decided to take a giant step toward a solution: He started a fund-raising website and a Facebook page asking people to help him pay for a new pair of kicks. Scores of strangers have opened their hearts and their wallets to Vovkivinskiy, donating more than $37,000 to help him combat his Goliath-size shoe challenges.
And, on Friday, athletic apparel giant Reebok announced that it wanted to fly Vovkivinskiy out to its headquarters in Canton, Mass., and custom-make a pair of shoes just for him.
“Thank you so much to everyone who made this donation drive happen!!” Vovkivinskiy posted on his website. “I cannot believe my eyes at the amount and the generosity of the people. Thank you all.”
‘It hurts horribly to walk’
Vovkivinskiy moved to Rochester, Minn., from Kiev, Ukraine in 1989 at age 6. His mother was desperate to find medical care for her son, who already towered above her at 6 feet tall at the time. She made sure he was situated near the Mayo Clinic, where surgeons tried to remove a tumor in his pituitary gland that was overwhelming his body with growth hormones.
The National Geographic Channel reported that the tumor was too deeply embedded to be removed entirely, so Vovkivinskiy kept growing, and growing, and growing.
His sheer enormity has taken a painful toll on his feet over the years, as the 29-year-old recounts on his website:
“None of my shoes for too long have been made specifically for my feet. They rub, they make wounds, I have surgery, foot gets more deformed, they rub more, I have more surgery and so on. And the circle goes on.
“I am now recovering from my last set of three surgeries, and I still have no shoes. I have one pair of clogs; they have no shape that holds my foot, they have no grip on the bottom, so going out in the winter is suicide, it hurts horribly to walk in them, and they hurt my feet, legs, hips, and back.”
Before launching his site, Vovkivinskiy contacted an array of shoe companies asking for help and guidance. An employee from just one of them — Reebok — got back to him, explaining that a new pair of custom-made shoes would cost him about $15,000 and would require him to have his feet scanned for creation of a special 3D model just for him.
That kernel of information gave Vovkivinskiy a surge of hope. At once, he launched his fund-raising site with a target goal of $16,000 to cover the cost of one pair of custom shoes and the price of business-class airfare from Minnesota to Massachusetts. (Vovkivinskiy can’t fit in coach.)
In about three weeks, strangers gave more than $37,000 to Vovkivinskiy, and on Friday, Reebok stepped forward with its announcement about making the shoes for him at no cost.
“When Igor came to us and we heard his story, we were more than happy to completely fund the creation of his footwear,” Reebok’s chief marketing officer Matt O’Toole said in a statement released to TODAY.com. “It is our goal to make fitness accessible to everyone.”
Vovkivinskiy could not immediately be reached for comment about the free shoe offer, or about what he would do with all the money he raised in light of the Reebok news. But many of his supporters seem to realize that, as a college student who faces a unique array of financial and personal challenges, he needs more than a single pair of custom-made shoes.
“I met Igor when he was graduating from high school,” a supporter named Jean Day posted on his Facebook page. “His bed needs to be specially built, his mother hand-made all his clothes, and only a few years ago found a place that specially made his socks. The floors of his house needed to be reinforced and ceilings, doors, etc., all [made] much taller than normal and those costs added up.
“For a while, he had to lay down in the back of his mother’s van, as he didn't fit sitting up — talk about dangerous with no seat belt or safety like that. The van was altered but it still is one vehicle only. Shoes, clothes, vehicles — they all need to be replaced as time goes on. ... This is not just a one-time issue!”
Dozens of notes of encouragement sent to Vovkivinskiy have reflected a similar spirit of generosity.
“We added a little donation to the pot and we hope you raise enough for plenty of comfy shoes and some new clothes to match. Good luck and God bless!” wrote one donor.
“You're gonna have more than one pair of shoes!!” wrote another. “Good luck Igor!”