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In 2003, the Doernbecher Freestyle program was launched—it consisted of 6 young patients at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital paired with a team of Nike designers to create completely original footwear designs. The creations all drew upon each child’s unique interests, personalities, and often reflected their health care journeys and hopes for the future.

Flash forward to today, and Doernbecher Freestyle has raised over $27 million to advance the cause of children’s health at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital—helping to ensure that the highest standard of specialized care is available to all its patients. That number is sure to grow thanks to this year’s 6 amazing patient-designers—a group we’re dubbing “The Super Six.”

The Empath

Desiree Castillo

During her stay at Doernbecher, doctors connected Desiree Castillo with resources and mental health support to help her deal with the emotional aspects of her chronic illnesses. “Basically, they taught me that my life is worth fighting for,” she says.

The thoughtful, empathetic Desiree’s velvety shoe was a labor of love, and she went through over 100 colored pencils until she found the perfect palette. The midsole is circled with the names of family members, while the back features the name of her beloved therapy cat, Charlie. A blood droplet graphic on the outsole represents all the finger pokes she does to monitor her blood sugar—and on the sockliner you’ll find lyrics from her favorite band.

The Beacon

Kahleah Corona

Kahleah Corona is a source of light and inspiration to everyone who knows her. On her React Element 55s, a riot of bright colors and glittery materials come together in a reflection of her sparkly personality. The shoe also features her favorite emojis, a green ribbon to symbolize traumatic brain injury, and the initials of all her family members (a rattle represents her new baby sister).

As for the phrase “K-Strong”, it became the family’s rallying cry after the accident. “In the PICU, they didn’t think Kahleah was going to make it,” explains her mom, Irma. “That’s when I decided that the entire family had to be ‘K-strong’ to help Kahleah get strong, too.”

The Speed Demon

Ethan Ellis

Good luck keeping up with Ethan Ellis. This athletic, mile-a-minute guy is passionate about basketball and dreams of playing professionally one day. Ethan’s design is a tribute to both the game he loves and the people and places that were a part of his health journey.

The reptilian accents are a nod to his favorite team, the TCU Horned Frogs. The number 6 represents his heart surgeries, while the laces feature the hospitals where he received care. On the tongue, you’ll find the name of his pal and fellow patient, “Lil’ Rey.”

The Heavy Hitter

Bransen Fernando

When life throws Bransen “Boom” Fernando a challenge, this kid comes out swinging. Diagnosed with bilateral kidney cancer at just seven months old, Bransen became the recipient of a brand new one recently—thanks to his dad’s cross-training coach. His shoe features a kidney print on the sockliner, the date of his transplant, and a donkey for his favorite dialysis nurse.

Flip the shoe over and you’ll find Bransen’s nickname “Boom” in bold letters, along with a bumblebee to represent the “Bs” in his family—his siblings Benjamin and Brielle. Even his dogs, Bonnie and Bosco, are featured as a paw-print surrounded by a heart.

The Daredevil

Sawyer Miller

Sawyer Miller’s treatment required a long stay at Doernbecher, which meant missing time with his friends, family and classmates. So to support him from afar, they came up with a surprise: every Friday, kids and teachers at his elementary school wore a special green “Team Sawyer” tee featuring his favorite animal; a panda bear.

That gesture of solidarity served as the inspiration for Sawyer’s shoe, which features the same “Team Sawyer” logo and a friendly panda munching on a Nike swoosh. A blue pawprint on the bottom sole represents his dog Izzy, and on the tongue tab you’ll find the names of members from his medical team. “Dr. Selden is my hero,” he says.

The Fighter

Zion Thompson

For Zion Thompson’s custom shoe, she decided to go with embossed white leather for a clean, classic look that captures her personal style. The embroidered roses across the Swoosh are a nod to her cancer treatment; as Zion points out, “When you’re starting treatment, you feel pretty small—like a closed rosebud. But your bravery helps you bloom and in the end, you grow beautiful and strong.”

Zion is still in the midst of her treatment journey, which she signifies with the word “survivor” printed on the shoe’s sockliner and outsole. It’s a word of great significance to Zion. “Survivor is the word that feels the most empowering, because it reminds me that I’ll get through this,” she says. “I want to inspire all the other kids out there who are survivors too.”

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