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It’s Olympic season again and that means that people around the globe will be glued to their television sets watching their country’s best give it their all in their quest to bring home gold and honor. As you sit their staring at your screen, you’re sure to also be bombarded with commercials from the Games’ official sponsors: McDonalds, CocaCola, Nike and Co.

One commercial that you might come across is the latest from Nike. The running shoe company has been on a tour de force lately with out-of-the-box commercials with their #makeitcount campaign and now their “Find Your Greatness” series. The commercial that has caught my attention and no doubt that of many others is entitled “The Jogger”. It features an overweight 12-year-old boy named Nathan running towards the camera, while we are told that greatness is for anyone to have. now I don’t want to say this is a great commercial, or that it’s terrible, but it should have us think.

For me seeing this commercial is very bitter-sweet. Looking at this boy running, I see myself when I was younger. I was the fat kid, not chubby, but fat. At the age of 13 I was 250 pounds and size XL/XXL. Every time I see an overweight child my heart goes out to them. More often than not their weight is the result of irresponsible parenting, corporate malfeasance, and government failure and they are not happy. They may experience happy moments, but these children are not happy.

Poor Parenting:

Until children are 16-years-old or older they still need the guidance of their parents. As a teacher, I feel 100% confident saying that children under the age of 14 are anything but fully rational beings and require supervision. They cannot be entrusted to make important decisions regarding their wellbeing on their own. Parents that allow their children to pick their meals on their own are being simply irresponsible. When parents see their children gaining weight beyond what looks healthy they need to intervene quickly and investigate the reasons.

Weight gain and loss is in general a very simple mathematical principle. Eat more calories than you burn and you gain weight; eat less calories than you burn and lose weight. I say in general, because there are medical problems that can hinder this. As a parent then, you need to prepare your children fresh, quality food and ensure that their calorie intake matches their calorie usage. In the case of noticeable weight gain either the child needs to be more active or decrease their calorie intake.

Corporate Malfeasance:

One of the ironic things regarding the Olympics is that McDonalds and CocaCola are official sponsors. A grown adult generally needs 2000 calories a day, children need less, teenagers from age 14 can usually eat a little more. The average Big Mac Meal has 1350 calories, or more than half of one’s daily calorie allowance.

Food and chemical companies have created food that is packed with calories and leave people unsatiated. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) can be found in almost all processed foods available in North America. HFCS has been linked to medical problems including obesity. However, in an attempt by big corporations to make more profits playing on people’s fears of fat, low-fat usually means high HFCS and other chemicals.

For further reading and watching on this topic, read: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, watch Food Inc., and King Corn. The below TED talk by Jamie Oliver is also very good.

Big corporations, like big banks, are not capable of policing themselves and unfortunately due to shareholder profits they due not have society and consumers as their first priority. Independent government regulation, free of all influence by the industry is needed here more than ever.

Government Failure:

As I’ve just stated, governments have failed to implement sufficient regulations in the food industry and are allowing corporations to poison and kill people. The unfortunate results are high costs for national healthcare programs and early death.

However, in a constant attempt for governments, in North America especially, to cut the cost of education sports programs have been cut and children are not getting the exercise they need to burn the calories they are being fed at home and in schools. Governments on all levels need to reverse this trend. A healthy and educated population are keys to the economic wellbeing of a nation.

The Result:

The result of all of these failures and schemes is that obesity is a major problem in the western world, while billions starve each day in the developing world. Equally bad is the fact that because of poorly engineered foods hundreds of thousands of people are starving to death lacking the correct amounts of necessary vitamins, minerals and other nutrients their bodies need, while also suffering from obesity. The chart below shows the daily calorie intake per capita in many countries, North America (Canada and USA) are the clearest offenders of going well beyond what is considered healthy.


Returning to Nathan and Nike, I would like to end on this note. Greatness is indeed not genetic, nor inherent in one’s nature, it is the result of vision, risk, and hard work. I hope for Nathan’s sake he is able to achieve his goals. Running is a great start, I know it’s one of the activities that has most shaped my life and there is no sport I love more. I’ll close with this: We live in a sad world in which we challenge an ever growing number of children not with expanding fields of knowledge or set new records in human achievement, but to correct the mistakes of those, who should have been taking care of them.


Since I started running in 2008 there have been a number of things that I’ve noticed. I’m fitter, feel better, and think clearer. The other thing that I’ve noticed is that I buy a lot of running shoes. I’m not addicted to shoes by any means, but I run approximately 60 kilometers a week in training and then add the marathons and running events to that and you see the numbers add up. In my basement storage space I have a closet full of worn out shoes. It is generally the uppers that wear out the fastest I find, though a loss of traction is also an issue.

Last year alone I purchased 4 pairs of running shoes and over 2000 km of running including three city marathons and four mountain marathons completely destroyed the shoes. The question always remains though, what can be done with the shoes?

Believing that I would one day come up with a brilliant scheme to process and recycle my shoes, I have not been throwing them in the garbage but saving them. The other day I was speaking with a shoe manufacturer and asking them about shoe recycling and I was told that it is currently too difficult. But I decided to look around on the Internet again for a program that recycles shoes.

I found that Nike has such a program in place. They turn shoes into three different sport surfaces:

The fabric (uppers) –> basketball court underlay

The foam (midsole) –> tennis courts

The rubber (outsole) –> running tracks

Nike Shoe Recycling

What to do with your old running shoes

This program does not exist in Switzerland, but it does in Germany and there is even a Nike shoe recycling plant in Belgium.

Here is my idea:

On April 22, 2012 the Zurich Marathon will take place for the tenth time. Nike is one of the official sponsors. Nike should set up a giant shoe collection for recycling at this year’s marathon. With over 6,000 runners and many more spectators this could be a huge drive to collect shoes. Furthermore, the city of Zurich or other developers could already work with Nike to possibly purchase some of the flooring components that will be made with the shoes.

On their site, Nike says that they will recycle running shoes from every brand, but stress that they can only recycle running shoes. Furthermore, the shoes cannot have any metal components like spikes (so no cleats).

Beside the shoe drive for broken and worn-out running shoes, it would also be great to have a shoe donation. It has happened to me that I’ve tried on a new pair of shoes in the shop, they felt great, I bought them, but when I actually went to use them I didn’t like the way they felt. These shoes could be donated to people in other countries, who would benefit from having protection for their feet.

Any major event that brings thousands of people together should by its vary nature also seek to increase social responsibility and address a social need. Shoe recycling addresses the environment and shoe donations raise poverty awareness.

Shoe facts:

Every year the Swiss pay more than 50 million francs for running shoes.* In Germany that number is over 165 million euros**. That is a lot of running shoes. In Switzerland that’s more than 200,000 pairs of shoes.

According to a report in National Geographic, it takes approximately 80 million liters of water to produce a million francs worth of shoes. Or 80 liters for every franc of shoe value. The environmental impact of shoe production must not be underestimated.

16000 liters of water for a pair of shoes

*This number was 48 million in 2000, so it must surely be much higher now.

**This number is from 2008, and is probably also higher now.