When I was in the 6th grade, I found Nike; or more accurately, somehow Nike found me.
Tennis was the game of choice in my family, and we were K-Swiss people through and through. I remember my father buying me the new sparkling white leather shoes at the Charleston Tennis Club pro shop, how the shoes smelled, how it took awhile to make the soles bend just right. But I always felt I was dressed as a tennis player when I wore my K-Swiss to school, and it felt a little odd to be “dressed” for tennis in an elementary school classroom.
Nike changed that.
I will never forget my first pair of Nike athletic shoes. The style was called “Pegasus,” and they were light blue with a royal blue swoosh. Suede, rubber, and parachute fabric all came together in footwear perfection.
As did most kids at that age, I originally wanted them because the most popular girls in my school were wearing them. But there was a difference with these shoes in their long-term effect. When I wore my add-a-bead, or my Sassoon jeans, or carried my Bermuda bag (all status symbols I didn’t even really like but felt pressure to have), I still felt like the guy dressed in a tomato costume, sitting around the campfire in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It’s a ridiculous scene with a grown man sitting in a circle of actual tomatoes. He’s clearly not a tomato. But they all buy it until he accidentally says, “Pass the ketchup.” I was always one false move away from being discovered as a complete fraud.
What dawned on me with my Pegasus shoes was a feeling of being genuine. I was no longer dressed as a tennis player, and it was even more than being dressed as an athlete. I was dressed as a girl who could do things. Hook, line, and sinker I bought Nike’s belief in me as a strong, capable person with unlimited potential. And you know what? I’m fine with that.
It was just marketing, I realize that now 30 years later, but it shaped how I saw myself and how other people saw me. Some professional counselors and personal coaches equate how you see yourself and how others see you with what becomes of your genuine reality. To a certain extent, I credit Nike with shepherding me through some choppy adolescent waters. That company was at my side through one of the most widely recognized storms of human development, and I will always have fond memories of that time.
Like adolescent love itself, there is a degree to which my affection for Nike cannot be dismantled; unfortunately, the company seems to be trying very hard to make sure I understand they don’t require me as a customer anymore. They have large pro teams and university contracts, and they don’t seem too terribly interested in whether or not I believe in myself through athletics and fitness these days.
The first pair of “real shoes” I bought for my child was Nike. I’ve since switched her to Saucony, as Nike’s expanding distance from the realities of women, children, and now my home state has finally made it unavoidable that we part ways. Someone told me last week that I was simply being “politically correct” in this belief. I couldn’t disagree more. This is much bigger for me than some corporate mistakes. This is 3 decades of watching a company morph into something entirely separate and apart from the beauty of its origins. It is the sad experience of seeing a childhood hero selling out over time and losing touch with its soul as it is blinded by greed. Nothing about it is correct in any regard.
I still dream of Pegasus. Fly on, little dreams. Fly on!