CANTON, Mass. – Finding shoes Igor Vovkovinskiy takes more than a trip to the mall; more like a trip across the country.
Vovkovinskiy flew to Massachusetts on Thursday from Minnesota so shoe engineers at Reebok could try to custom build shoes strong enough to support the tallest man in the United States.
Vovkovinskiy’s feet have struggled badly to support his 7-foot, 8 and one-third-inch frame. His 16 foot surgeries in six years have left Vovkovinskiy a virtual shut-in. All, he wants, he said, is shoes that fit so he can get outside, walk his dog, and enjoy his life.
The damage to his massive feet came from wearing shoes that don’t fit, said Vovkovinskiy, of Rochester, Minn.
“Every time I’ve had surgery and the wound began to heal up, wearing these same shoes, or the previous shoes that I had, would just open the wound right back up,” Vovkovinskiy said as technicians prepared equipment at a basketball arena for the shoe-fitting.
Technicians estimate his shoe size at somewhere between a 22 and 25 — sizes impossible to find at the mall.
Medical insurers, Vovkovinskiy said, have ignored his pleas for help in paying for proper-fitting shoes and did not bother to respond to numerous letters that from physicians “stating that ‘it’d be a lot cheaper to make shoes that’d fit his body than to keep having surgeries.'”
Vovkovinskiy says his only shoes have no traction, making it “suicidal” to leave his home, particularly in wet or snow conditions.
“I haven’t been able to go for a joyful walk for six years now — that’s something that I’ve missed and I know my dog has missed,” he said. “I look forward to just going for a walk with my dog, just walking around the neighbourhood.”
Vovkovinskiy was at Reebok headquarters in Canton on Thursday for a complex shoe-fitting that involved, among other things, custom pressure-mounting equipment, imprints in bio-foam, a powerful three-dimension scanner to map the shape of his feet, calipers to take precise measurements of length, tape measures and a handful of technicians.
Reebok says it’s building the shoes at a cost of $12,000 to $20,000. It has helped Vovkovinskiy before and hopes to again, the company said.
The size of Vovkovinskiy’s shoes depends on measurements such as the length, width and distance from his soles to the top of his feet. Those measurements are particularly tricky with Vovkovinskiy because he has unusually shaped toes and feet because of his numerous surgeries.
It will take the company up to six weeks to create prototypes for Vovkovinskiy to try out. Then, they’ll fine-tune them to produce proper-fitting shoes.
Vovkovinskiy, 29, is originally from Ukraine, but at age 7 moved with his mother to Minnesota for treatment of his condition, known as pituitary gigantism. He was 6 feet tall at the time.
Vovkovinskiy said his life changed when the series of surgeries started. That forced him to spend about three years on bed rest, during which time his muscles weakened and he gained weight.
“Living the last six years has been a nightmare basically,” he said.
Shoes that fit will get him outside and make a huge difference, he said.
“Basically, I’m a prisoner of my own house, even though I am medically cleared to walk,” Vovkovinskiy said. “Where am I going to go with shoes that are painful?”
The plight forced Vovkovinskiy to launch an online campaign to raise $16,000 to pay for a custom-fit new pair of shoes. He said he expected to take more than a year to raise the money, but social-media sites and news reports fueled interest from donors and he was able to raise the money overnight.
Then Reebok called, offering to help him again for free. Vovkovinskiy says he plans to use the money he raised online to set up a shoe fund for life.
“That means everything from boots in the winter to sandals and then, once I start applying for jobs, dress shoes,” he said. “I’m so overwhelmed by people’s generosity. I’m so thankful.”
He is already looking forward to window shopping, going to the mall and even venture out to do things that friends talk about on social websites.
Those simple wishes are rather ambitious for Vovkovinskiy who says he hasn’t been able to fit in a normal car for about 10 years and “travelling by airplane is just terrible.”
“I’ve always had difficulties but, yeah, I try to make my life as normal as possible,” he said. “I try to do everything that everybody else does.”
Rodrique Ngowi can be reached at www.twitter.com/ngowi