Y shoes? BYU athletes explain sneaker culture

Written and compiled by Ben Winters with photography by Preston Crawley, Addie Blacker and Emma Wiles.

Carley Brown, Reggie Kanagawa, Rylee Jensen-McFarland, Will Watanabe and Dalton Nixon play three different sports but share the same passion: sneakers.

BYU softball pitcher Brown was walking to class one day when a truck plowed through a large puddle, splashing muddy water everywhere, including all over Brown’s all-white Nike Air Maxes. Minutes later, Brown entered her classroom and a friend pointed out her muddy shoes. Brown could only muster “this truck” as she choked back tears.

Brown’s friend didn’t understand the big deal, but dirty shoes are devastating for a sneakerhead like Brown.

Sneakerheads invest in shoes that can be worth hundreds of dollars, so they want to keep the sneaker in its purest form — no blemishes, no spots.

Defensive back Watanabe understands Brown’s frustration and the costs incurred by sneakerheads. When the Travis Scott Jordan 1 sneaker was released to the public, Watanabe bought them for retail price of $175, but the resell price on the shoe is over $1,000. When sneakerheads talk about not wearing certain shoes or getting frustrated over a stain on their sneaker, the cost is one of the main points of the frustration.

Every time the defensive back wears his shoes, he cleans them immediately after and then puts them back into the box in hopes that they last as long as possible.

“I keep every shoe box, every piece of cardboard and the paper that goes inside the shoes,” Watanabe said.

It might seem silly to outsiders, but to sneakerheads like Watanabe, all pieces are important in case they decide to resell the shoe.

Most sneakerheads’ money goes towards shoes and only shoes. This trend is easily seen through Watanabe’s extensive collection of sneakers and is echoed by BYU softball’s Jensen-McFarland.

“Every single spare dollar I have goes to shoes,” Jensen-McFarland said.

A per diem is given to players on the softball team for each trip, and Jensen saves the money from each trip for shoes. When the team goes to the food court in a mall, as they often do on the road, Jensen-McFarland said she skips the meals so she can go to a shoe store to eyeball new shoe releases and debate which one to pick next. Forty pairs at home isn’t enough for her, so she tries on another pair.

Jensen-McFarland describes her shoe relationship as “very unhealthy.”

The sneaker relationship goes all the way back to high school for some these BYU athletes, who didn’t realize their initial interest in shoes would turn into a wildfire obsession later.

Jensen-McFarland customized a pair of Kobe’s every year in high school because she wanted to have the best shoes on the court.

“I always had a fetish. If somebody had cooler shoes than me, that was a problem, ” Jensen-McFarland said.

Her teammate, Kanagawa, is a pitcher and first baseman on the softball team and has a shoe inspiration of her own: Lebron James.

Kanagawa got her first pair in high school and fell in love. “This is going to be my style,Kanagawa decided.  

Watanabe had a similar experience to Kanagawa. In middle school, he also got into sneaker because of basketball — but it wasn’t a popular pair of Kobe’s or Jordan’s that caught his interest but Stefan Marbury’s Starburys. According to Watanabe, they were cool shoes but also cheap and affordable.

As a freshman in high school in 2013, he got one of his favorite shoes, the Jordan 11 Columbia sneakers, which are also a favorite of BYU basketball’s Nixon.

Nixon fell in love with the Jordan 11s when he received his first pair from his father at five years old. Nixon also said he and his teammate Jake Toolson developed a special bond during their freshman season that Nixon said was “a friendship built on a love for shoes.”

From sending messages back and forth about sneaker news to constantly chatting about who has the best shoes, sneakerheads love finding friends — and teammates if they’re lucky — that have a similar passion for shoes.

“That’s the great thing about the shoe game, you have your own flavor,” Nixon said.

The “Look good, feel good, play good” mindset has helped these athletes develop their own style.

Kanagawa loves to wear running shoes — Nike 270s are her favorite — with athletic apparel all the time. “I don’t care to dress girly. I have all men’s shoes, it doesn’t matter to me.” She embraces this mentality by being a size 13 in women and 11.5 in men.

Kanagawa’s message to women who are insecure about their shoe size is to embrace it.

“Who cares if you have to wear men’s or women’s shoes,” she said. “There shouldn’t be a limitation set on what you wear. As long as you like it and look good.”

Looking the part and feeling right is what Watanabe is all about too. “If I have good shoes on, then it’s going to be a good day. If I don’t have good shoes on, then I’m self-conscious.”

For Watanabe, shoes are a way to express himself. “The shoes are what finish the outfit, it’s like the cherry on top,” he said.

Every sneakerhead is unique. From basketball shoes to streetwear shoes, from Kobes to Lebrons, the BYU sneakerheads express themselves with a variety of shoes.

Brown loves Nike 270s along with her teammates, and she even has a pair of sneakers on the way. She decided she needed to up her shoe game when she came to college, so she bought seven pairs of shoes. This might be because of that rainy day when her Air Max shoes went from white to brown in seconds.

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