Young cancer survivor designs her own Nike shoes

Young cancer survivor designs her own Nike shoes
Autumn Boynton, 10, inspects the Nike Air Max 90 she designed as part of Doernbecher Freestyle program. The design process began back in April and concluded Saturday with a runway show and auction. (Photo courtesy of the Portland Business Journal)

There’s the Oct. 31 kind of scary. The fake, Halloween kind that doesn’t really scare anybody.

Then there’s the July 17th kind of scary. For Autumn Boynton, that’s a two-sided kind of fear.

It was on that day in 2005 when three-year-old Autumn awoke her father, Billy, in the middle of the night with what he called the “really scary screams.”

Those screams, as they soon discovered, were the result of a pair of cancerous Wilms’ tumors on her kidneys. Within a matter of months she would be kidney-less and on her way through a four-year marathon of radiation and dialysis treatments.

Then came the other kind of July 17th scary.

It was on that same date in 2009 that Billy Boynton, too, would lose a kidney.

Scary, yes, but the kind of scary that comes packaged with hope and anticipation, because Billy’s kidney would soon become Autumn’s kidney with the help of Oregon Health & Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

That selfless, life-saving act allowed his little girl with the fire-red hair to grow into a sparkling, ebullient 10-year-old with pop-star aspirations.

Now, she has the shoes to match the sparkle.

Boynton was one of six Doernbecher patients chosen to participate in the hospital’s now nine-year Doernbecher Freestyle program in partnership with Nike Inc.

The patients are teamed with a pair of Nike employees — one designer, one product developer — to design a collection of footwear in their vision.

In addition to an auction held Saturday, the shoes will hit select Nike retail stores and the company’s e-commerce store on Nov. 30.

The proceeds benefit Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and if last year's bounty is any indication, the total will be significant.

The Freestyle program last year netted $1.2 million for the hospital — up 45 percent from the nearly $826,000 collected in 2010.

So for $100 (or $78 for youth sizes), you can buy a pair of pink-and-black Air Max 90s covered in peace signs and, yes, sparkles.

Portland Business Journal photographer Cathy Cheney and I joined Autumn during parts of her journey through the Freestyle process. The result is this photo story.

The Portland Business Journal is a news partner.