Donations Help America’s Tallest Man Get New Shoes

ROCHESTER, Minn. (WCCO) — Just days after WCCO aired a story about the predicament America’s tallest man faces, the Rochester, Minn. resident has seen an outpouring of generosity.

Igor Vovkivinskiy is 7 feet, 8 inches tall, and has had 15 foot surgeries in the last three years. The residual pain from those surgeries makes it difficult for him to stay on his feet at times, so he moves around the house in a motorized wheelchair.

Vovkivinskiy told WCCO’s Holly Wagner a pair of shoes with proper support would change his life, would help him lose weight he gained during bed rest and gain back the muscle he lost.

Vovkivinskiy, who came to the U.S. from the Ukraine when he was a child, needs size 26 shoes. When he contacted Reebok, they told him it would cost $15,000 to have shoes specially made for him, money not in the budget for this college student.

With the encouragement of his friends, he started a web page and started collecting donations. Since WCCO’s story aired on Monday, he now has over $25,000 in donations and counting.

Igor posted this message: “Thank you so much kind people of Minnesota! Thank you people for your kindness, generosity, outpouring of support.”

Watch the original story below:

  • Nancy Aleshire

    Now maybe Igor can use some of the remaining money to buy himself some clothes. That is tough, as well. I don’t know whether the big and tall men’s stores carry clothes for men that tall. Mens clothes manufacturers are well behind those who make clothes for women. For example there are no places to go if you are a shorter man. Both my sons were 5’3″. There are petite sizes for women and for full figured ones. Good luck, Igor–you’re a nice guy.

    • Truth is tough

      Everything is custom …. and dang expensive. They really do call it Capitalism for a reason. I sometimes just call it gouging :(

      • Justsomeguy

        Custom is an extremely expensive process.

        • Kelroy

          Bull…..*! It’s about GREED. I am a US Manufacturer and I know that material is inexpensive. It’s the hourly wage that ups the price. It’s all about GREED. God forbid some shoe maker couldn’t set aside time to build these shoes for material cost only. No wages. This fella needs to go to a different shoe cobbler and tell REEBOK “No Thanks!”

          • Reality

            Umm… why? I don’t think many Mother Theresea’s go into to the shoe-making business. Although it would be good publicity for whoever did do that – but then again that is also GREED.

  • Dale

    The cost comes from having a 1000 or so kids in Rebok’s sweatshop to stop making other shoes to get these done. Have to pay for lost production.

  • thesuperman


    Only 3 people would be needed to make a pair of size 26 shoes. It is not that hard to cut raw materials and hand make some shoes.

    • Truth is tough

      My MIL wears some type of orthopedic shoes, but they are not “special made” to fit non-standard feet, They set her back better than $1200 a pair. Robbery IMO for a show that was standard size and production type shoe but that’s what they cost her
      I am not sure why Reebok hit this $15K number – but for a custom fit and special ortho shoe where both were hand crafted it may be the rate…with a profit. To date we have not seen a shoe company step up and say ” We will “so that may be the rate if anyone even desires to at all.
      Come on Red Wing….. you can almost walk over to do a fit. Charge him market rate even with small profit – the goodwill will be enormous and heck, I will even buy a couple more pairs of boots tomorrow. Bet many others would too – GOODWILL factor is huge

      • GrandmaJ

        Like politics, everyone takes their cut–from the top to the bottom. Yet it is the bottom line person who does the work.

      • Justsomeguy

        It is surprising to see so many people who don’t realize everything that would go into a custom shoe. Or custom anything for that matter. I am a mechanical engineer for a industrial equipment company and I am in charge of custom projects. Trust me it is insane to do things in a quantity of 1. Which we never do. It is always 2 minimum. The first prototype costs say 10 thousand, to make the order quantity 2 only adds %10 usually. Not to mention a system in full production mode may cost $500 for our company to produce but that same unit as a custom one off machine would cost us at least 10k.

        • GrandmaJ

          I grew up where we had the town cobbler who could make the shoes as well as repair. It is no different than making your own saddle for the horse. Same amount of leather. Sans the personal wage, the shoes should not be that expensive. Cowhide, etc. My now cobbler has retired at age 90+. Our leather repair/cobbler here recently died of cancer. Have not located another leather crafter yet.
          It is an art, but it not exclusive a manufacturing issue. How do you thing those of us who sew do it? Only when you do a wedding dress might you template/prototype it. Heck, I wing designs for my kids and grandchildren all the time. People did not start wearing shoes in the 20th century! Check history books, look at the photos. Someone made those shoes. With technology today, by the goodwill of the people, this should not be an issue.
          My 50 year old machines sew leather, but not the heavy stuff for shoes.

          • Crazy

            We have Arabs. We had 2 custom English saddles made 4 years back.
            $3500 and $3750

            Saddles – loose non-ortho saddles there Grams
            nuff said

        • Kelroy

          Wrong…you are adding in the hourly wage (the greedy part) I am a manufacturing company and it comes down to material cost only. Mechanically engineering a SHOE is quite different from manufacturing industrial equipment.
          What do ya need, some rubber, some canvas, some thread, some shoestrings, some leather???? What more do you need?

          • Crazy

            lmao – Dude you have no concept of what is invloved. We are talking a custom fit ortho shoe that allows him to walk…without pain … without further damage to a foot.
            You and I could maybe grab and skin a deer, make him a set of mocs for what – a Ben if we work cheap?

            No surprise at the expense and order another 4 and the total be not much more than for the one pair alone. That won’t help him out much if you listen to video … sounds like more changes ahead.
            What you need is someone who will forgo profit – then maybe 75% of the figure used. I don’t see any takers lined up now, do you?

          • Boo

            Reebok makes “molded” shoes and they are not handcrafted as you state. If they don’t have the rubber molds then making a custom pair probably do cost that much.

      • Lolly Hill

        I think Reebok came up with $15k as their “go away” number. They figured he’d go away and stop bothering them. It would have been a great opportunity to do some PR but they chose to be arrogant instead. Oh, did I say arrogant? I meant to say corporate, sorry.

  • Mr.Yes

    US and Media. Start to get to know your neighbor more and don’t wait the media to tell you that your neighbor doesn’t have a shoe.

  • Holly is hot

    If not for Holly, he’d be still in those read-tad shoes!. Thanks Holly for getting the word out.

    • A Great Couple

      If Holly wasn’t married, they would be a great couple (Igor & Holly). She needs to do a follow-up where she brings the shoes to him. Seeing Igor Vovkivinskiy smile because of Holly’s work would make my day. This has a making of a future movie.

      • Crazy

        ever hear of divorce ?
        And get away — she’s mine.
        Holly – Marry me please! ;-)
        Nice story and great job…you done good girl.

  • ummcradiation

    Congrats Holly on a great story- saw it on CNN!

  • funksoul6

    Seems like some enterprising NBA or NFL team ought to step up and get this guy any corrective surgeries or footwear that he needs and then sign him up. Can you imagine trying to block him?

  • Diego Roswell

    The take away from this story is that the government is not involved or needed in cases of special needs. The American people are the most generous and charitable in the world. Read this story to your progressive (big government worshipping) friends.

    • Mel

      yeah, people should be reduced to begging for corrective shoes before help comes their way. you’re probably the same person that is annoyed with a beggar on the street asking for spare change? But why? They’re not running to the government for a handout, just their caring friendly neighbors who I am sure are more than welcome to open their homes and feed them a meal and help them kick their drug habit and council them and help them find a job.

    • Orrest

      It took him how many years to get shoes? 15 surgeries in 3 years because of no good shoes, so over three years. FEMA has a better track record than that.

  • Justsomeguy

    Simple it is “custom” which especially for a company like Reebok which likely has dedicated custom shoe designers who day to day design for athletes and are probably very expensive employees. Seeing as that is their typical custom customer it raises costs. Then you have to think about the custom process. Entirely designing a shoe which will sell one or two pairs and manufacturing that shoe without a production line. He would probably benefit a bit by asking NBA players if he can use their design. Or even getting their used shoes. I am 6’8″ and wear size 17. I have a friend who was a ball boy for the Nuggets. He would give me free shoes that the players left in the locker room for employees to take. Since small sizes were a rarity in this case, I benefited. Apparently most players wear the shoes for one or two games and then get a new pair. This could be a possibility as well for him. Although not too many basketball players match his height even.

  • David S.

    Awesome that DrudgeReport ran this story. Since it posted on that site Igors contributions went through the roof. It is great to see that the American people are willing to help each other out when there is a need. Thanks to you CBS Minnesota for reporting this!

  • rad

    He should talk to shaq the basketball player I think he wears 24s

  • Kjirsten

    Thank you WCCO for making a difference for this nice college student. It was a great story and all the more interesting by choosing your smallest reporter to cover the story.

    I am so proud of our neighbors generosity and Minnesota Nice! Come on Red Wing Shoes lets get this man some ankle supported boots!

  • A Friend in MN

    Come on Redwing Shoe Company show your Minnesota pride. Donate some shoes for this guy.

  • bobattababyitsaboy
  • tech

    These shoe companies are pathetic…. They pay athletes millions to endorse shoes yet they can’t help out a poor guy who clearly has unique needs.

    • See BS

      I’d really like to see science people figure out how to help stabalize his feet and help him walk.

      You are absolutely right — they pay out millions for “advertisement” and can’t find a way to help out someone who has unique needs.

      Human Universal Load Carrier, or HULC, is an un-tethered, hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton developed by Professor H. Kazerooni[1][2] and his team at Ekso Bionics. It is intended to help soldiers in combat carry a load of up to 200 pounds at a top speed of 10 miles per hour for extended periods of time. After being under development at Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory since 2000,[3] the system was announced publicly at the AUSA Winter Symposium on February 26, 2009 when an exclusive licensing agreement was reached with Lockheed Martin.[4]

      • old Nurse

        @ BS You one again are clueless. It is a medical condition that is the root of his problems. As Mayo is studying him there would be a reasonable assumption that he has connective tissue issues that science is not going to be able to fix.

        • See BS

          No — I’m talking about special shoes to help him walk. I have expensive shoes to help with foot pain.

          Perhaps this man needs a special boot to support his ankles and arches to help him walk easier. Think about Forrest Gump in his leg braces — only with modern technology.

          Youtube search “Hulc” and watch the small demonstration of “hulc” — this man is probably at risk for “Bedbound obesity” — so why not help him in the long run to avoid this potential condition?

          • Old nurse

            The story said he was living in Rochester to be followed at Mayo due to his medical condition. So BS is smarter than the doctors at Mayo. If prostetic devices would have helped him out Mayo would have already done that. If some medical device were to have worked there would be payment for that. Mayo would have done that. They do no do shoes.

  • Multivet

    I think if a cottage industry approach was made to this shoes could be produced for a tiny fraction of the projected cost. I would have a podiatrist make orthotics and a leather worker the uppers, soles and heels. The feet would be wrapped in cloth, then duct tape over the cloth then the duct tape/cloth cut off and used for patterns for the uppers.

  • mike

    what amazes me is the gall of Reebok to tell this man we can make you a pair of shoes but its going to cost 15K, you would think Reebok has made enough money making their product in china, viet Nam or anywhere else but AMERICA…. I will never buy another pair of Reeboks…. I think rebok makes the shoes for free to the athletes who wear them…

    • Uncle Rico

      If you are not going to buy Reeboks then do not buy Addidas, they own Reebok.

    • Old Nurse

      Rather than “think” and post something that may not be true try doing research. Most athletes have contracts for wearing the company products because people watch athletes. It is called advertising.

  • Mikesarasota

    Gee how many thug basketball players get free shoes???

    Classy move Reebok

  • alan

    I just came up with a great idea. The guy can get a job in an apple orchard picking the high ones. Hey, its a job, lots of fresh air and some nice exercise.

  • holly

    I have been trying to get this confirmed from Reebok, but I’m told by other shoemakers it’s because they have to do individual scans of his feet, and then create molds for each one which is very expensive – and then create the shoe. We are expecting an official response from Reebok next week. Good question.

    • john doe

      This is not very expensive!!! Cast the foot and make a mold and go from there. they may have to hand sew but 15 thousand dollars is a joke and rip off.

  • Sylvia A Thompson

    Hello WCCO and Hello Mr.Vovkivinskiy. My name is Sylvia, my shop specializes in custom shoes and custom orthotics. I’m a Certified Pedorthist, a Certified Foot Nurse, a Diabetes Educator, I’m running a nationally accredited foot/footwear clinic. Our shoes are available in 1000’s of combinations from Kangaroo to snakeskin and everything in between and all made to your own feet in almost any imaginable color or trim. With these choices, I can’t imagine why special feet would need 15,000.00 cookie cutter shoes. Give me a call, (360) 582-3736 I would be happy to work with you. Sylvia A Thompson, RN,CFCN,CPED,DE – Owner/Founder The Well-Foot Clinic.

    • krkyoldhag

      your post is so great…a little company that can out do the China factories of Reebok..good for you.

      I am a seamstress and if he send me his measurements I would custom make him clothing from any pictures he sends me.

  • sanj

    Rebook is ripping him off. If he really needs shoes,he can go to the India, to any of the Chinese Shoe Makers in New Delhi, or Calcutta, and more than likely have 10 – 15 pairs custom made to fit his feet in any design he desires.
    In New Delhi some of the Chinese Shoe Makers are located in Khan Market.

    • Judy

      Instead of blaming the shoe manufacturers, here we have TWo people offering their services locally. This is the answer he is looking for. Custom made over sized clothing is expensive as are shoes for oversized feet. THANK YOU to ALL that have donated to this young mans needs.

  • BigFoot one

    Fact is that sneakers and the like are made of materials which will be unlikely to standup to much use if the foot is above about a size 17 or 18. Probably best to have a pair of real shoes made for him that will last awhile. Suggest RedWing or White brand shoes as their product really hold up and are will know for supporting hard working feet in tough environments (such as firemen, dock workers, etc.)

  • Mart

    It has to do with time, material, skill and craftsmanship. There are many step (no pun intended) to making shoes. Initial diagnosis of pressure points and anomalies (an 8ft man must exert huge pressures on the material) . Making a form or plaster cast of the feet so you make a proper fitting shoe. Material used will alter the cost dramatically, longevity and usefulness of the end product. Finally, you need skilled craftsman to actually make them. I have had to have custom shoes made for over 40 years due to injuries. It is harder and harder to find a true cobbler. The craft is a dying art and the time needed to go from form to finished product on an individual basis is no longer cost friendly. My last pair of shoes (generally size 10) cost me over $700.

  • Crazy

    I believe you about as much as your neighbor who says you claim you keep Elvis locked up in the bedroom…….whats that about anyway? bedroom?

    • From Roch

      Fine by me…Believe what you want…Come to Roch once and see how you get treated if you ran into him

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