By Ken Stone
Nancy Sinatra sang: “These boots are made for walking.” Carmen Jackinsky’s version is: “These shoes are made for walking 31 miles, and I’ll be racing in ones my own company made Jan. 26 in Santee, my old hometown.”
Melodious or not, Jackinsky is doing it her way.
Ten years after starting a company called ReShod to improve race-walking shoes, the resident of Aloha, Oregon, will compete in the National 50-Kilometer Race Walking Championships adjacent to the Mall at Trolley Square at Santee Town Center.
Her goals: Qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials and sell some of her patented shoes.
Not bad for a 55-year-old former prep gymnast once told she’d never be an athlete again.
“My whole point of this at the very beginning was: If I can get the right shoe, and get some time to train, I want to get to the Olympics,” says Jackinsky, also a coach. “And I would love to go to Tokyo [in 2020]. If I can walk [11-minute miles] and have next year to train, I’d be happy as a clam.”
Experts are doubtful she’ll meet the likely qualifying standard of 4 hours, 30 minutes, but Jackinsky has a good shot at an American 55-59 age-group record. The listed best is 6:31:52 by Cathy Mayfield in 2008.
Women have been race-walking 50K unofficially for years, but it wasn’t until 2017 when the event long confined to men was added to the IAAF championships menu (joining the 20K walk). It’s been recommended for the 2020 Olympics.
Santee will be Jackinsky’s fifth 50K. In 2016, she raced an unofficial 31-miler at the Olympic Trials adjacent to Santee High School.
That year, former Bonsall resident John Nunn was the men’s winner, qualifying for his third Olympic Games.
“I have tried her shoes,” Nunn said of ReShod’s debut red model. “I was impressed with how much thought and research and development went into them.”
Nunn was at the end of his career, though, and raced in adidas he was comfortable with. (He says he’s been out of the walking loop for the past year in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he’s started clinical rotations at a physicians assistant school.)
Nick Christie of El Cajon, who last week was named USA Track & Field Athlete of the Week after breaking a 10K indoor walk record, said on Facebook that he had a pair of ReShod red shoes.
“While I enjoy them for walking casually, I find them a bit bulkier for racing and faster training sessions,” he wrote. “As a casual walking shoe, I think they have a great feel.”
Therein lies a not-so-dilemma: Do shoe companies target the millions of casual walkers or craft a model catering to a microscopic market slice?
Racewalk.com founder and IAAF technical official Jeff Salvage says if he had to guess, about 10,000 Americans consider themselves race walkers. “But when you say serious competing, you’re under 100,” he told Times of San Diego in a phone interview.
Jackinsky, who once worked for Nike, has seen the marketing and production issues up close.
What she learned at the Portland-based shoe giant was the walking category comes in two flavors: “You’ve got your race walkers and you’ve got … everybody else. And the everybody else will wear pretty much anything. … They can wear boots.”
Walkers say they want a low, beveled heel with a firm sole, flexible forefront and an ankle collar that allows flexion, extension, she said. “And we need a good hard rubber outsole that takes a lot of wear and tear.”
But marketing people — who tell development what to make — interpret that as “Oh, it’s like a running flat with a few other changes.” And when unsavvy recreational walkers call for “comfort,” that’s seen as “add a bunch of padding to it. … That doesn’t really work.”The reality, she said, is race walkers are such a small niche that big brands don’t want to make shoes for them — “because they won’t make any money.”
That’s where Jackinsky comes in.
After working at Nike and Columbia Sportswear (which sent her to China to study lasts and fitting), she started ReShod Walking Shoes LLC in summer 2008 with the idea of putting new soles on old kicks. That business model didn’t last.
She stopped resoling in 2016 “mainly because people were running out of shoes to send me,” she said, and newer shoes were problematic with all the embedded gadgets.
So that year her one-person company (using contractors and Chinese manufacturers) brought out its first model, the attention-getting red shoe. Jackinsky incorporates patented designs, and has a third one pending for a blue model.Race walkers are generally high on her invention.
“I’ve tried her shoes and like them,” said walk coach Michael Roth of North Carolina. “She’s where Nike was in the early 1970s and she knows it. Hopefully the second edition makes it to market soon and she can increase the number of retailers without having supply issues.”
If she reaches the New York and Maine markets (the only state where high schoolers do race walks), “she could really do well,” he said.
Ben Young, commenting on Facebook, calls the shoes terrific for race walking.
“They encourage using the correct technique, and the pushover technology makes the heel-toe action for race walking more seamless than traditional running shoes.”
But Sandy Matson says she bought a pair ($145 retail) and “sadly had to return them as the cut around the ankle bone was too high and hit my ankle bone.” She hopes the new blue ones coming out will address that issue.
Darlene Backlund of Palm Springs, a masters record-setter in her early 70s — who bought her first pair of ReShods after trying out a prototype in June 2016 — says she got them in time for the national 50K in January 2017.
“They were absolutely wonderful — so very comfortable, no issues with my feet after doing 50K,” Backlund said. “I currently have a pair that has over 650 miles on them, another pair with 250 miles.”
Elite walker Michael “Giuseppe” Mannozzi of Ohio says he was skeptical but promised Jackinsky at the 2016 Olympic Trials that he would try her shoes.
“They did not disappoint,” he told a Facebook race walk group. “I was coming back from a lingering injury and have not been injured since.”
Stephanie Casey of Oregon, who plans to wear blue ReShods in Santee, wrote that she spent over 10 years trying to find a decent race walking shoe “and always felt like I was fighting against my shoes until I tried Carmen’s shoes that are actually made for race walking!”
She’s pleased with the latest shoe, but would like an even a lighter model.
And Michael “Cappi” Capozzoli of Sedona, Arizona, says he recently walked from Dana Point to Boston — 3,200 miles — primarily in ReShods.
“The light weight, low profile reduced ankle roll and the tops are rugged as hell,” he wrote after his fund-raising jaunt. “Why aren’t they mainstream is simply getting enough … international exposure.”
Race walk guru Salvage, a computer science professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has written or co-written eight books on the heel-toe-heel-toe sport, including four with Cuyamaca College cross country coach Tim Seaman, a two-time Olympian.
He says Jackinsky has little competition, since New Balance no longer makes race-walk shoes and a small Massachusetts company called Hersey — named after founders Bart and Jan Hersey of Maine — offers shoes starting at $200.
“He sold to another guy who’s not quite as hip on the race-walking stuff, and I’ve not been recommending them much,” Salvage says of the pricey Hersey model.
Salvage advises Jackinsky to supply free shoes to elite walkers — whose testimonials could generate sales.
“You’ve got a couple hundred diehard race walkers in this country who could easily go through four pairs of shoes a year, so you could easily be selling thousands of copies of the shoe,” he said from his home in Medford, New Jersey.
International mail would balloon costs, he said, “but if they were good, I’m quite confident there are people in other countries that are desperate for good shoes, (and) would pay the money.”
Salvage says he’s offered to test ReShods, but hasn’t been sent a pair. He says he would be more than happy to tout the shoes “if I liked them. And I wouldn’t charge her a dime. I’m trying to promote the sport.”
So how did Jackinsky come to be Queen of Race Walk Shoes?
Born on the East Coast, the second of 12 children, she grew up in Springfield, Illinois, where she lived until high school graduation and moved to El Cajon in 1981. (A younger sister and brother were star athletes at El Capitan High School, taking after their dad, Roger, a South Dakota state high school mile champion in the 1950s.)
First Jackinsky was a dancer.
“My mom, ironically, said I walked funny when I was a kid and stuck me in dance,” she said. “I was the kid hanging from the bar because I wanted to be upside down. So they quickly switched me over to the tumbling class.”
Carmen was a gymnast when she “did something I shouldn’t have been doing” — trying a triple front flip after a high school meet. She “opened up” at the wrong time, landing on her stomach.
“I heard a pop. Really tweaked my back,” she says. “You know, you’re a kid and you think you’re invincible.”
A doctor said she suffered hairline fractures in her lower back, “but would probably never heal because you’d have to be in a body cast.”
A San Diego Chargers team doctor told her she’d never be an athlete again — even saying cycling would be too hard on her back.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I was a gym rat … up to six hours a day. Now all of a sudden I was nothing. I had no future as an athlete.” In pain, she became depressed.
Then in 1986, while taking a PE class at Grossmont College, she learned race walking — which strengthened her back. (“I don’t have any issues now,” she says.)
When she found the women’s 20K event was added to the Olympics in 1992, “it kept me hooked. But I didn’t like the shoes.” So she started “doctoring up” her Nike Spirit running shoes.
Meanwhile, she met Craig Jackinsky in a Grossmont physics class.
“He was the first to start carving up shoes for me so I could improve them,” she said. “That was before we married.”
Eventually trained as a paralegal at the University of San Diego, she didn’t think of footwear when she moved to Portland, Oregon.
“We happened to land a half-mile from Nike’s world headquarters,” she said from her Portland suburb home. “Someone said go get a job there. They have a legal department. I’m a paralegal.”
She got a “really cool” marketing job instead.
“They were involved in product. I got a taste of that whole world. And really wanted to do footwear for pro walkers,” she said. “My thought is that: If we could get a shoe that’s identified with our sport, we can grow our sport.”
She later worked for Columbia Sportswear, where she was sent to China and “learned all about lasts and fitting.” But like Nike, they lacked interest in helping design a race-walk shoes.
But recalling her gymnastics past, she designed a shoe inspired by a vaulting horse springboard.
Advised by her husband to get a shoe-repair shop’s help, she carved up foam to give walkers vertical lift. Craig later “asked a brilliant question: How do you make a negative [heel] shoe not negative?”
She said: “We need to transfer energy forward in a horizontal motion. The angled foams kind of do that. They depress and allow your hips to stay level, so you can roll forward and have that smooth gait.”
Jackinsky experimented for years until she figured out the “densities and combinations and the angles” by feel underfoot.
“I kind of did it backwards from what engineers would,” she said.
Her latest patent and design features what she calls a “zero drop” — the distance from the heel to the ground is the same as the ball of the foot to the ground.
Nike at one point offered Jackinsky $1,000 for her shoe ideas, but she turned it down. Brooks tested it but said their salespeople “didn’t know how to sell something like this. And that was their out.”
Footwear giant adidas tested her concepts for a year but said it wasn’t interested.
But the German firm secretly continued the project.
“The only way I found out about it was because they screwed it up and they had the audacity to call me up and … have me explain what they did wrong,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. … Really? You picked my brain for a year and you tell me you’re not interested, and clearly you are.”
So she walked away from adidas.
Nike hired Jackinsky as a coach, and she worked there 12 years in its fitness center as a trainer. She continues to coach, her business fed by folks preparing for the 130-mile Portland to Coast Walk Relay.
If a women’s 50K Olympic Trials is held, she expects the qualifying time to be about 5 hours, 45 minuets.
“It’s a challenge that I’m up for,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of 10 1/2 minute [mile] pace…. I’m training at 40 degrees” and recently walked about 40 miles a week. “I actually have really good turnover, and I can still rip out a 6 1/2-minute pace for a short period — for 100 meters.”
Walk expert Salvage — who once did a mile walk in 6:10 — is now 51. He once did a 10K (6.2 miles) in 44 minutes, which he thought put him in 4:20 shape for the 50K, “which would have put me squarely at the Olympic Trials.”
But he hurt his knee and never got to race.
“I had the speed and had the talent, but if I look at a track I get injured,” he now says.
Salvage wants to see Jackinsky carry on in his footsteps.
“I want to encourage someone like her because if she succeeds, even if it’s not on version 1 or 2, it’s going to be good for all of race walking,” he said. “If I liked the new shoes, they would be in the [new] book right now.”
Now 5-foot-6 and 149 pounds (compared with her “buff” pre-puberty 5-5 and 125), Jackinsky is going through menopause but takes no hormones. She avoids chocolate and caffeine to deter hot flashes.
She considers herself “very healthy structurally,” and with help from her shoes “I can bang out a lot more miles and bounce back because I haven’t broken down as many blood (corpuscles).”
Her childhood dreams remain bright, too.
Jackinsky tells how, as a 12-year-old in Illinois, she sold Chicago Tribune newspapers. In 1976, she won a contest to get new subscriptions. The prize: three days and two nights at the Montreal Olympics.
She took an autograph book from fifth grade and, while headed to a restroom, ran into boxing brothers Michael and Leon Spinks.
“Met both,” she said. “Gold medalists.”
Soon the former Santeean will be back, banging out laps of a 31-mile race.
“It’s interesting how life kind of brings you back full circle,” she said. “I go up to Portland. I go to work and create a shoe and then I come back to Santee to race in them. What are the odds of that?”
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