Ex-patients' designs part of Doernbecher, Nike fundraiser

Twins Kate and Kira Smith, 17, had a distinct advantage when they sent off their college applications this year: The Beaverton girls each have designed footwear and active apparel for Nike.

Kate contributed a pair of Nike Roshe Runs and a hoodie to the 2013 Nike Doernbecher Freestyle Collection, while Kira added her own Nike Dunk Sky Hi shoes and a tank top to the line.

The Smiths were nominated along with five other patients from Oregon Health & Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital to participate in the annual project. Physicians and nurses suggest young designers, who are then paired with members of Nike’s creative team.

“The kids work hand in glove with a Nike designer, and the designer works with Nike, with dozens of people on this — you cannot believe how many levers are being pushed,” says Dana Braner, vice chairman of pediatrics at Doernbecher. “Together, they end up creating a shoe that reflects aspects of (the child’s) personality, or journey from sickness to health. Anything that’s important to the child.”

The result is an extremely popular, limited-release line, with all profits benefiting research or family services at Doernbecher. The originals are then auctioned, and often fetch upward of $10,000 as prized collectibles. By teaming up with a total of 58 designers in the past decade, the project has raised a total of about $8 million.

“The kids just love it,” Braner says. “It’s so amazingly beneficial to these children that have been through so much.”

“And,” he says, “I gotta be honest, the shoes are pretty cool.”

Braner’s own daughter often sports a pair of Nikes designed by Kylee Bell from last year’s Freestyle collection.

Children visit the Nike campus in Beaverton to meet with designers, and have final say in the look of their shoe. Braner recalls how Nike accommodated one child who had a creative change of heart late in the design process. “She had it all the way to prototype, but decided it really didn’t express her in the way she wanted it to,” Braner says. “So she turned around and made another.”

Kate’s aesthetic might best be described as “girls with swords.” Kira’s, meanwhile, has a Victorian sensibility.

“I was inspired a lot by my love for medieval weaponry,” Kate says. “I just really love the idea of female empowerment.”

She channeled this interest into her own coat of arms, which appears embossed in black on the toe of her low-tops and as a kind of logo on the back of her hoodie sweatshirt. The insignia includes a phoenix, the bird famed in Greek mythology for rising out of the ashes.

Kate said the metaphor for renewal resonated with her after a middle school bout with obsessive compulsive disorder.

“It kind of goes with my story — all this hard stuff, coming out on top of it, being my own person,” she says.

Kira also let her recent struggles inspire her shoe’s design. The high-top features red detail with black lace overlay, and a skeleton key charm that is in part a nod to “Alice in Wonderland,” a beloved story that deals with one theme that is close to Kira’s heart. “Madness, and the question of insanity — what is it? I find it fascinating,” Kira says.

Dual diagnosis

Five years ago, Kate and Kira mirrored each other’s symptoms in what their mother, Rebecca Smith, described as a “regimented competition.”

“It was sort of a twin-twin competition in how it exhibited itself,” Smith says. “It was all surrounding food and exercise issues. They would watch each other, only eat what the other was eating. They were exercising to the extent the other was.”

Concerned by her daughters’ destructive patterns, Smith took the girls to mental health professionals who wanted to treat Kate and Kira individually, or who diagnosed both with eating disorders without exploring their unusual sibling dynamic. Finally, they found psychiatrist Ajit Jetmalani at Doernbecher, who treated the twins as a pair. After a few months, Smith saw a noticeable improvement in the girls.

“Before, they couldn’t let each other out of their sights,” she says. “They were very concerned the other one would get more exercise than they would. It was a big moment when they were able to separate.”

After seeing Jetmalani, the girls were able to spend an entire summer apart and are even considering attending different colleges next year.

Kate is planning to pursue acting, and Kira’s dream of becoming a fashion designer has only been strengthened by the nine months she spent working with Nike.

“I got to see what the designing industry would be like, and what I might be doing in the future,” she says.

The Smiths’ designs are distinctly different, but there is a tiny bit of cross-promotion between their shoes.

“When I was making my coat of arms, I put a key in to represent (Kira),” Kate says. “She’s such an important part of my life.”

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