To expand on today’s column (linked here), with a shot above of Greg Woodburn running with children in Mali, in Western Africa, after supplying the village with old running shoes last January:
In the latest People magazine — March 8, page 126 — in the section “Heroes Among Us,” Greg Woodburn fills the page.
The quote at the end fills our hearts.
Oscar Perez, a 17-year-old who used to run track in his coach’s tattered hand-me-down shoes, is a senior at Modesto High with a near pair of red and silver Nikes. Thanks to Share Our Soles.
“It’s amazing,” Perez says. “Who gives you a free pair of shoes just because?”
Greg recalled how those in Mali, when given a pair of shoes that didn’t necessarily fit well at first, were hesistant about letting go of the rare opportunity to have footwear.
“A lot of the people there had shoes that didn’t necessarily fit very well,” he said. “There were instances where we’d give out a pair of shoes to people in the village that might be a half-size or full size too small, and we’d try to take them back to get them another pair and they’d say, ‘No no this pair is fine,’ because they just wanted a pair of shoes so badly.”
As far as the publicity that’s happened to him, both locally and nationally, Greg says he kind of wishes all this didn’t necessarily draw attention to him, but he understands how publicity helps the cause and the charity’s future.
“There’s been much more attention to this than I planned,” he said. “I didn’t expect a lot of this to happen. When I started a shoe drive for a few months, it’s just kept growing and growing from there as more heard about it. As much as its grown I can’t take all the credit for it. So much has been others hearing about it and getting behind the cause.
“One of the most inspiring things about this is seeing people who want to help but don’t know the best way how. SOS provides an avenue to help other and they get enthusiastic and passionate about it.”
Greg’s father, Woody, understandably has a tough time hiding his pride.
“Honestly, I couldn’t be more proud of Greg if he was winning 1,500-meter or 5,000-meter races for USC than what he’s accomplishing with Share Our Soles and Give Running,” said Woody, a sports columnist most recently for the Ventura County Star and Daily Breeze. “I’m amazed how he finds time for Share Our Soles at USC while also maintaining his studies, putting extra time in the art studio and running track and cross country, He promises me he even finds time to do his laundry – occasionally.”
More background on Greg: He started running club meets at age 7 and soon was competing almost annually in the USATF and AAU nationals in cross country. The stress fracture and then had knee problems got him down. Because he’s close with his older sister Dallas — she graduated from USC last year with a creative writing major — Greg remembered how she started a holiday book drive in middle school and brought in 11,000 books for underprivileged kids (through WriteOnBooks.org). He had helped her with that.
The idea came for him to collect old running shoes.
“I was proud that instead of feeling sorry for himself for not being able to run and race because he was injured, he was able to feel empathy for others who instead of being injured simply didn’t have shoes,” said Woody. “And then to not only see the problem, but go about trying to help in his own small way was wonderful to see as a parent.”
Greg, a Trustee Scholar, was named USC’s “Student-Athlete of the Month” for January with a 3.96 GPA (4.0 last semester). He also has two favorite John Wooden quotes — “There is great joy in doing something for somebody else” and “Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”
He’s found support from Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor, who in addition to collecting shoes from other Olympians at Mammoth Lakes and inviting him over when she’s at her beach house in Oxnard, she wrote him a letter of recommendation for college that said: “Greg has reminded me how rewarding it is to give. As Greg has inspired me as a professional athlete and Olympian, I can only guess that his continuously great achievements and acts of goodwill make him a shining example for his peers to mirror. … Greg is a tremendous athlete, a standout scholar, an exemplary humanitarian and a truly remarkable young man.”
Greg’s accomplishments has caused his dad to pause and reflect on how his son has influenced his perspective of things:
“When I was writing sports columns, guys like Greg — who maybe didn’t have the most athletic ability but had the most determination and whose impact was more than just touchdowns or home runs or races won but their citizenship off the playing field — were the ones I admired most and liked writing about,” said Woody, who used to lead sports ball donation drives every December for his newspaper and in 2004 helped Bryan brothers’ dad, Wayne, write a book called “Raising Your Children To Be a Champion in Athletics, Arts and Academics.” (linked here).
“I don’t know how many fathers out there have a son as their role model, but I certainly feel that way.”