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Track-led shoe drive collects more than 1,000 pairs

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Luis Orta doesn't remember what he was thinking a few months ago during a typical 10-mile run for the Kentucky track and field team, but there are few times when he has thought more clearly.

When Orta discarded this pair of shoes into a nearby trash can, he felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. Track and field athletes go through shoes like napkins, but Orta didn't feel right throwing away something that still had use to it.

Feeling at fault with himself, Orta went home and talked to his roommate and teammate Josh Nadzam about the shame he was feeling. Together, they came up with an idea.

Instead of just throwing away the shoes, what if they gathered them up and shipped them to developing countries and people in need, they thought. Sure, the shoes had been worn, but they were in perfectly good shape for anything outside of a track athlete's use.

In an impromptu meeting, Orta and Nadzam turned the idea into a plan. They were going to start a shoe drive on UK's campus and donate the footwear to Soles4Souls, an organization of Nashville, Tenn., that has found new homes for more than 13 million pairs of gently used shoes within the last six years.

"As runners we go through a lot of shoes throughout the season," Nadzam said. "Every 400 miles we get a new pair to prevent injury. We realized that instead of throwing these shoes away, we could round them up and given them to people in desperate need. We then thought, 'Why stop at the track team? Let's make it campus-wide and city-wide.' "

The two went to work that day. They texted, called, emailed, "Facebooked" and "Tweeted" anyone they knew, including UK student-athletes. They also sought help from Kentucky's media relations department and got the word out through the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Kentucky Kernel.

After the first day of the drive, they had collected 100 pairs of shoes. By the 10th day, they'd amassed more than 400 pairs.

Nadzam, as the male winner of the Community Service Award at Monday night's CATSPY Awards, had a chance to plug the shoe drive on stage and has received hundreds of pairs since. As of Wednesday, they've collected more than 1,000 pairs.

"The response we have gotten is tremendous," Nadzam said. "So many people have offered to help. Many people have told me that they are doing their own small shoe drive and will bring us the shows they collect at their church, work, fraternity, sorority or other organization. It's incredible."

The two are hoping UK's student-athletes realize the impact they can have on people and how they can make a difference around the world.

"We are so thankful and appreciative of our opportunities as athletes here at UK," Nadzam said. "We want to do as much as we can to give back to those who are not as fortunate."

The shoe drive will continue through next week and conclude May 6. Those interested in donating to the drive can drop off shoes at UK's Center for Academics and Tutorial Services, which is located at the front of Memorial Coliseum.

Orta and Nadzam are so driven to collect as many shoes as they can that they've offered to come get them and pick them up. Contact Orta and Nadzam at ortaluis15@hotmail.com and jmnadz2@uky.edu to schedule a pickup time.

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