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Pediatric cancer survivor inspires creation of 2 nonprofits

Akron native and entrepreneur Andrew Shepperd started the nonprofit organization Project Outrun after getting to know pediatric cancer survivor Kylie Rose Jacobs, 9, and her family. The organization seeks to empower kids battling pediatric cancer by providing them with custom-designed ‘Outrun’ shoes. Kylie Rose is pictured here with Project Outrun founder Andrew Shepperd. (Photo courtesy of Benjamin Meyer).

Legal News Reporter

Published: November 8, 2018

Inspiration can come from anywhere or anyone and sometimes it can be quite unexpected.

In the case of Akron native and entrepreneur Andrew Shepperd, a young cancer survivor motivated him to start the nonprofit organization Project Outrun, which seeks to empower kids battling pediatric cancer by providing them with custom-designed ‘Outrun’ shoes.

About three years ago, Shepperd entered Kylie Rose’s Run, a 5K & Family Fun Run to support six-year-old cancer patient Kylie Rose Jacobs, who was undergoing treatment for Wilms Tumor, a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys.

“The energy of Kylie Rose’s Run was inspiring,” said Shepperd. “Sometimes people just stick with you, and Kylie’s spirit and her family did just that. After her race, I knew I’d run and come back every year to make sure she was okay.”

The following year, after running a second 5K, Shepperd learned Kylie Rose’s cancer had returned, but that she was again in remission.

“On the second anniversary of her 5K race, I watched a strong, radiant ball of life run around,” he said. “The thought popped into my head that if Kylie has a 5K in her honor, she clearly needs shoes to match her logo, which Kylie designed herself.

“So I made a mental note that at her next 5K race, I was going to design her a pair of Nike shoes to match her logo that she could wear when she ran her next race cancer-free.”

Unfortunately, her cancer came back for a third time in December 2016. Shortly after, Kylie Rose underwent a 10-hour surgery followed by proton radiation at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Shepperd said when he learned the news he knew he couldn’t wait to bring her custom Nike shoes.

“After I found out she was no longer in remission, I ordered her custom shoes. I sent Kylie’s dad, Eric Jacobs, a picture of the shoes with a note that said, ‘When Kylie outruns cancer, she has to be wearing the right shoes.’”

“The timing was perfect,” said her mother Carrie Jacobs. “My husband and I were so grateful to Andy for the shoes and we wrote him a thank you note. When he received the note, he said it was so inspiring that he wanted to help more children like Kylie Rose, who were suffering with pediatric cancer.”

Shepperd said his idea was to empower kids through shoes.

“Dream shoes, power shoes, custom shoes, shoes with kids’ favorite colors and their messages, I wanted to give them whatever they needed to lace up every day and outrun fear or sickness or doubt and to get them back on their feet,” said Shepperd.

In April 2017 Kylie Rose received a bone marrow transplant at Akron Children’s Hospital and her mother said she has been in remission ever since.

Around the same time, Shepperd designed 17 pairs of shoes for Akron Children’s Hospital patients, beginning what was to become his nonprofit organization, Project Outrun.

Since April 2017, Shepperd has been taking his “Sneaker Squad” to Akron Children’s Hospital on a monthly basis as well as to additional hospitals in Ohio.

“Our design nights consist of dinner, shoe design and swag bags,” he said. “Swag bags are filled with a Project Outrun T-Shirt, as well as a personal finish line. Our finish lines are meant to encourage our kids to set and achieve goals.

“We tell the kids, ‘set a goal, something big, something small. But when you achieve that goal, put on your Outrun Shoes, have mom or dad hold that finish line and bust through because nothing feels as good as running through a finish line.’”

Recently the little girl who inspired it all got the chance to design her own Nike shoe, which sold for $160 a pair from Oct. 16 through Oct. 22.

The shoes were available on Cultivator, an online pop-up shop that sells custom-designed Nike shoes made by a community of creators. Forty percent of the proceeds went to Project Outrun and The Childhood Blood and Cancer Fund at Akron Children’s Hospital.

The Project Outrun team sold 423 pairs of the shoe Kylie Rose designed on Cultivator, with more than $27,000 going back to the nonprofit.

Project Outrun now serves hundreds of children in northeast Ohio in pediatric oncology wards. Recently the nonprofit organization got the attention of Nike.

“At Nike, we believe in human potential and so does Andrew,” Ken Dice, vice president and global general manager of NIKEiD said in a statement. “When we found out that Andrew was using NIKEiD to help children with cancer, we connected and told him we’d help him in any way possible.

“We look forward to continuing our relationship with Project Outrun, and never forgetting that when kids outrun cancer it helps to have the right shoes.”

There is yet another positive outcome that has resulted from Kylie Rose’s story.

The original 5K run that led Shepperd to meet Kylie Rose and ultimately start Project Outrun is now itself a nonprofit organization.

Carrie Jacobs and her husband Eric, who have two other children, sought nonprofit status for Kylie Rose’s Run in the spring of 2018.

“Kylie Rose also started making Kylie’s Bags of Love for all children in the hospital,” said Carrie. “They are filled with all kinds of items and we take donations to help us buy items to fill the bags (www.kylierosesrun.com).”

Last year Kylie Rose Jacobs won the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

“Kylie Rose has been amazing through all of this,” said Carrie. “She never complained and always had a smile on her face. She was concerned about everyone else. We wanted to make sure something good came out of all the strength that we received from her.”

“Our goal now is to put custom-designed Outrun shoes in the hands of kids battling pediatric cancer across the country to empower them to beat the odds and cross the finish line,” said Shepperd. “As we say at Project Outrun, ‘When you outrun cancer, it helps to have the right shoes.’"

To learn more about Project Outrun visit projectoutrun.org.