Being a teenager is hard enough — imagine trying to get through when you can’t find any shoes that fit.
At only 14 years old, Eric Kilburn Jr. of Michigan stands six-foot-10 in height. For years, he’s experienced massive difficulty finding shoes to fit his equally massive size 23 feet.
Kilburn told the Washington Post he would squeeze his feet into a pair of size 22 Nike sneakers to go to school or participate in his football practices. The too-small shoes weren’t just uncomfortable, they gave him blisters and ingrown toenails. Kilburn told the outlet he’s even had two of his toenails permanently removed.
For a while, Kilburn was forced to wear Crocs (yes, in the winter too) because they were the only shoe that would come close to fitting his wide, flat feet. The teen hasn’t owned winter boots in five years.
Size 23 shoes are not sold commercially. The average men’s shoe size in the U.S. is 10.5 (and between sizes 9 and 12 worldwide).
Kilburn’s shoe size is even bigger than former American basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, who wears size 22.
For a while, Kilburn’s only option was to buy shoes created by an orthopedic specialist, but at US$1,500 a pair, the option was too pricey to accommodate Kilburn’s still-growing feet. His mother, Rebecca Kilburn, started a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for a few pairs of shoes. As of this writing, more than $23,700 has been donated.
Rebecca’s call for help didn’t just bring in generous donations. In fact, it gained legs and ran to executives at the sportswear company Under Armour, who offered to custom-make shoes for Kilburn. The size 23 shoes will be the largest custom pair Under Armour has ever created.
On Sunday, Kilburn and his family met with an Under Armour representative to get a 3-D rendering of his feet. According to Michigan news station MLive, Kilburn asked for the company’s Lockdown 6 basketball shoe in red.
“I’ve been worried for so long what would happen when I grow out of 22s, but Under Armour’s come up with the solution,” Kilburn told MLive. “It means everything to me.”
Under Armour also offered to design a pair of size 23 football cleats so Kilburn can play in the upcoming season.
Though he’ll have to wait six to eight weeks for the custom shoes to be ready, Kilburn is excited.
“I just feel like a huge weight has been dropped off of my shoulders,” he said.
Under Armour, however, wasn’t alone in their offer to make the teen shoes. Puma also offered to make Kilburn a pair of basketball shoes and will meet him in the coming days to take his measurements. Moreover, the construction company CAT asked to design Kilburn a pair of boots and the Italian company Mauri Shoes offered to make a mold of his feet for dress shoes so that he can attend school dances.
Rebecca told USA Today the support for her son has been heartwarming.
“It’s been overwhelming. I have been this puddle of emotions, all of them good,” she said. “It’s the coolest thing to be able to say we did it!”
Rebecca wants to spread the good news even further and help other folks with large feet. She started a Facebook group called Big Shoe Network, a “community for connecting big shoes, with big feet.” Eleven days after its launch, the group already has 2,000 members.
Kilburn does not have any health issues contributing to his unusual height and shoe size. The Washington Post claimed Rebecca herself is six-foot-two while Kilburn’s father, Eric Kilburn Sr., is six-foot-five.
“Tall is just normal for us,” Rebecca told the outlet.