Runners are unique.
We have high arches. We have flat arches. Some of us wear size 5s and others wear size 13s. We have long strides, short strides. We pronate and we supinate.
But these are just details…physical “thumbprints.”
Running is an action we’ve transformed into an experience, and each experience is our own.
Meet Rob Ziol.
Rob is a runner who happens to wear two very different shoe sizes.
His left foot is a size 10.5, his right is a size 13.
But Rob’s story is so much more than his disparate shoe sizes.
While in utero prior to his birth in 1974, Rob suffered from Twin-to-Twin Transfusion, a condition in which twins share a placenta, creating an uneven distribution of blood between the two. Although Rob survived—his brother passed away before birth—he faced physical challenges. In addition to a shorter left arm and smaller left foot, Rob suffered a stroke, partially paralyzing the left side of his body.
For the first eight years of his life, Rob went to physical therapy for his paralysis, learning how to maneuver using what limited range of motion he had.
“I literally had to teach myself how to walk – ‘heel, toe…heel, toe,’” Rob says, rehearsing aloud the basic mechanics of moving forward.
His mother also did stretches with him at home, but all that extra time moving his body through space wasn’t for the sake of an active lifestyle.
“My mom just wanted me to be normal, to fit in,” Rob explains. “It wasn’t actually about having a healthy lifestyle; it was just about being able to go through the motions.”
As the years passed, Rob says he felt out of touch with life.
“I was depressed…and by the time I got to middle age, probably about five or six years ago, I had reached obesity and was going to the doctor for meds.
One day Rob’s wife, Janet—a nurse practitioner—had an honest discussion with her husband.
“She said, ‘You don’t need to go to the doctors. Or take a pill. You need to get off your duff and stop eating junk food.’”
Rob, a professional development program manager at Cleveland State University, has several friends at work who run and one day he thought to himself, “they look normal… and healthy… and active.”
“I figured, let’s start running.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
“The first time, I tried to jog as fast as I could and was really out of breath. But I was determined to figure this out,” Rob says.
After a month of building up his cardio, Rob began focusing on foot placement – the mechanics of having to swing his partially paralyzed left leg, place it farther ahead of his right, and push off.
Heel-toe… heel-toe… heel-toe…
He repeated the mantra that came to him as a little boy learning to walk; and with that, Rob found his stride.
Within a year, not only did Rob lose 40 pounds, he completed the 2011 Cleveland Half Marathon.
“I had turned into a Forest Gump because something just clicked,” Rob explains.
But there was a problem.
“My left foot was killing me during my runs.”
Because he was wearing a size 13 shoe for both feet, his left would “flop about like a clown shoe.”
His doctor explained he needed the correct size shoe for each foot; otherwise he would cause permanent damage.
Rob ended up purchasing one pair of 10.5s and one pair of 13s – which equated to $275 for the two pairs. However, the price wasn’t the hardest part of his retail experience.
“I asked [the salespeople] what they could do with the other shoes I wasn’t going to use and they just blew me off. They shrugged and said, ‘Just throw them away.’ It was a really awkward experience.”
By the time he needed to replace the correctly sized half pairs, Rob was cranking out 12 to 15 miles per week. In order to avoid another uncomfortable social situation—and a pricey one, for that matter—he asked his running friends what other shoe purchase options he had.
One told him about the Brooks Mis-Mates program, a program in which a customer, just like Rob, could purchase one pair of Brooks running shoes from a participating retailer and a second pair (of at least one full size or two widths difference) at a discounted rate.
Rob went to Second Sole, a local running store in his town of Medina, Ohio, where he was fitted for two pairs of Brooks Adrenaline GTS – one shoe for his left and one shoe for his right; but this time the unused pair would be donated to another person.
“Most local retailers who participate in the Brooks Mis-Mates program will choose a local charity or footwear recycle program to donate the unused shoes,” explains Dyana Berger, Brooks Retail Runner Experience Manager. “Some have donated to the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which in turn gives shoes to active amputees.”
For Rob, that meant the world.
“When I ran into your shoes and got two pairs that fit, that was…” Rob says, trailing off a bit, “but when they told me the extra shoes would be donated, it really struck a nerve. I went from feeling like I was some type of misfit to thinking I was a part of something that was meant to be.”
For the folks at Second Sole, it’s a mutual feeling.
“Consumers who are in need of a significant size difference are elated when we tell them about the program,” says Joanie Andrews of Second Sole. “For the retailer, well, we are the big hero. That’s fun.”
Since the beginning of Rob’s journey, he has completed two full marathons, five half marathons and dozens of smaller distance races. He hopes not only to inspire others, but to find, perhaps, that needle in a haystack who happens to be his “sole mate;” someone who wears a size 13 left, size 10.5 right.
“Your program was a game changer for me,” Rob says. “I realized that I wasn’t a defect from a production line, I was different by design.”
Are you a size 13 left, size 10.5 right (i.e. Rob’s mis-mate sole mate)? Let us know!
Visit Rob Ziol’s website: Different by Divine