AJC Peachtree Road Race Bobby Johnson inspires with eco-friendly sneakers

While training for the world’s greatest 10k, a view along Peachtree Road inspired a man to ditch his running shoes and begin a 20-year journey to give back.

ATLANTA — The runners are wearing a lot of different things during the AJC Peachtree Road Race — costumes, flags — you name it!

The only thing everyone wears is a good pair of tennis shoes.

One day while training for the race, a sight along Peachtree Road prompted a runner to take off his shoes and give them to someone else. This action became his life’s work.

“Once I reached the bottom of Cardiac Hill, I started my prayer,” Bobby Johnson said.

Cardiac Hill is known as the hardest part of the race: the sneaky, heart-pounding hill near the hospitals on Peachtree Road. This was practice for the race, where the hill named for what it does to your heart touched something with Bobby Johnson.

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On Cardiac Hill, just as the Shepherd Center opened, Johnson pointed and said, “Do you see that wall over there? That day I looked at the wall and there was a homeless man without shoes.

So Johnson slipped on his size 15 sneakers, handed them to the man, and walked home barefoot. It was in 2001.

“I remember how it felt to give her a pair of shoes,” he said. “Just the joy on his face that he could just have a pair of shoes to put on.”

It was a moment of instinct that launched him on a journey much longer than a 10k run.

“From then on it was something I did as a hobby at first,” he said.

He started by putting collection boxes in running stores in the Atlanta metro area. It all started as a one-man shoe reader called Eco-friendly sneakers collect lightly worn running shoes that are repurposed for people in need.

“This [was a] snowball effect into bigger things,” Johnson said.

In 2012, Johnson decided to quit his job and run Eco Sneakers full time. To date, he has collected over 400,000 shoes. Now stores like the Big Peach wait for his weekly visit to pick up the donated shoes.

“Oh, I just can’t wait to find them a home, to get them where they belong: at someone else’s feet,” Johnson said.

This year, he is expanding and building a factory along Marietta Boulevard where he can grind up shoes that are too tattered to donate.

“That’s where we’re going to have machines, have a grinder here, have sanitizer to wash shoes,” he said.

Eventually, these little pieces will become stuffed animals and bean bags.

Her journey that began on Cardiac Hill still has no end in sight.

You’ll find eco-friendly sneakers at the Peachtree Health and Fitness Expo every year, but there are collection boxes at local running stores year-round.

  • Johnson’s Ferry
  • Buckhead (near West Wieuca)

Big Peach Racing Company

  • Buckhead
  • Brookhaven
  • Mariette
  • Suwanee
  • kennesaw
  • Decatur
  • Johns Creek
  • fishing town
  • Lawrenceville
  • Columbus
  • Savannah
  • Pooler
  • Atlanta Downtown 11th Street

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