Ben Hedblom's shoes were new when he started freshman year at Land O'Lakes High School. He's now a senior, and he's worn those same, now-tattered sneakers for the past four years as part of a bet. He turned his experience into a senior class project that earned a perfect score, and his story appeared Friday in the St. Petersburg Times.
Here's more of his interview in which he talked about his shoes and the lessons he learned.
When you got here freshman year, you were wearing these same shoes?
What kind of shoes are they?
Black Nike Shox.
Did you at that point think those were going to be the shoes you would be wearing today?
Definitely not. I mean, I was just like every other high school kid. Every couple of months I like to go out and buy shoes. I do like to look good. But something happened. It changed.
What was that something?
I had a Spanish teacher, Mr. Antonini. He liked to have classroom discussions. One day he was going off the topic of Spanish and he was talking about how he doesn't lose in bets. So I told him to make a bet with me. I like making bets. And he said, "Okay. You wear those shoes every single day until you graduate and I will shave my head and eyebrows." I said, "Okay." So I made the bet with him. It was probably halfway through freshman year. He left to go to Sunlake High School after freshman year. He went there for a couple of days to teach and then he disappeared. He went somewhere else. I'm not really sure where he is and I definitely want to get in contact with him and try to finish this up. Because I kept my part of the deal, so it's his turn to keep his … .
If you lost track of him a few years ago, what made you decide to go through with this?
After a while, I just liked the story that I could tell people. I liked seeing peoples' reactions. And I liked seeing how people dealt with something like this, if they opened up or if they thought it was stupid. Early this year I had the idea to make it my senior project. That turned out very well.
How do you make this into a senior project?
It was on perception, persuasion and experience, and how that affects the human attitude. People perceive me in my shoes and they either think I'm poverty-stricken or extremely unlucky. I persuade them to think differently. They either don't believe me or they think it's pretty funny and they're pretty positive about it. The experience part was the day-by-day experience of me wearing the shoes, them witnessing me going through with the bet, and them opening up and supporting me with my story.
So even though you may never collect on the bet, it's worth it?
Yeah. The past four years of wearing these shoes, I guess I didn't think about it for a while, didn't think about how me doing something so weird, I kind of soaked in the moment and soaked in me doing this. Because I don't think a lot of kids have done something like this and I think me seeing peoples' expressions, it was all worth it, definitely. But I would love — love — to see him shave his head and his eyebrows. That would make me very, extremely happy … .
They did a story in the school newspaper about it. They tried to track him down. ... He's probably wimping out.
How hard has it been for you to do this?
(The shoes are) really bad. I put the "I survived" (pin) I got after I did my senior project … on my shoes, because they did survive. After I got past all the negative looks I got from people, the things I had to deal with were the weather. I mean, I went from stepping out of my car in the morning right into a big puddle. One time I actually wrapped my shoe in a plastic bag so my socks wouldn't get wet. I have many holey socks. It's a very unique and absurd experience.
Well, you look good, and you look clean. And then you look down and you see these shoes that look like they could have been thrown away a long time ago. What do your parents say?
My mom, at the beginning when I was telling her I'm actually going to wear these shoes every day, she would say, "Yeah. Okay. Whatever." She just kind of blew it off. But now that I tell her there's 15 days left in high school and that I've actually worn them, and that I got 100 on my senior project, the judges really liked it, she says that it is a very weird thing, but she is actually proud of my commitment, I guess you could say, and my dedication. It's a very unique story that she is proud to be a part of.
What do you plan to do with these shoes?
There are so many things I would love to do with them. One of them would be to put them in the trophy case. I haven't talked to the principal about that yet. … I would like to keep them in the school for as long as possible.
Do you have your next pair of shoes picked out yet?
No. But Coach Hatcher said he's going to buy me any type of shoe that I want after I graduate. So that's what I am planning to do, find some nice shoes that I like and telling him about them.
Do you think this has given you any special outlook?
Yeah. I think it has. My social skills have also developed. It has made me stay open to everything. Because for people to see my side of the story they have to stay open to me. So I should stay open to them. I just like to persuade people and tell people about my story. It made me think less of what other people think of me, and it made me approach them and talk to them. They actually got to know me as a person. That goes way past the physical experience. I learned a lot about self image. You are what you believe you are. You can be whoever you want to be, no matter what you look like, so long as you put off that type of person and communicate with people the way you want to communicate … .
You were a kid when you started all this, 13 years old. You must have changed a lot.
I didn't accept this bet thinking it would get to be such a big thing. When I first accepted this bet, I was a little bit nervous, thinking, "Oh my God, I'm actually going to wear these shoes every day. What are people going to think when they start ripping?" But I mean after a while I adapted to it the way I guess I should have. I like to tell people about my story.
Is there anything that you think others can learn from what you did?
Yeah. Basically, you are who you want to be. The way you put off yourself is the person you are going to be. It doesn't matter what you wear. If you have the ambition to prove people wrong, you can prove people wrong, and it doesn't matter what they originally think about you.