The Best Shoes from the Nike Doernbecher Freestyle Program

Recounting ten of the most fun kid-designed pairs ahead of the duo’s reveal of its 19th collection.

Footwear 
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Nike and Portland’s OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital have maintained a close partnership since 2004 — raising over $30 million USD for the hospital via their annual Nike Doernbecher Freestyle Program. Each year, volunteers from the Swoosh connect with a group of patients at the hospital to bring their stories and personalities to life across sneakers and complementary apparel.

The unveiling of the 19th collection takes place on October 27 and an auction for its sneakers will take place ahead of a limited public release later this year. To commemorate the program’s first 18 years and the memorable releases it’s produced thus far, Hypebeast has assembled a list of the best designs to date.

Nike Dunk Low by Lance Dillon (2007)

Lance Dillon’s take on the Nike Dunk Low is one of a few Doernbecher Freestyle shoes to release twice, and for good reason. Working with the program as a quiet 17-year-old who conquered cancer, the collaboration brought out his personality. Its graffiti-inspired design sees motivational words such as “fight” and “warrior” spread throughout the upper as its gray, olive and sand brown color scheme offers a one-of-a-kind look. Its intricate detailing includes the date he was diagnosed with leukemia, number of days in chemotherapy at Doernbecher and a special wing depicted at the left shoe’s heel as this pair has ascended the ranks as one of the program’s finest to date.

Air Jordan 3 by Cole Johanson (2010)

Many of the program’s most sought-after releases are Air Jordans and one of the crown jewels is Cole Johanson’s Air Jordan 3. A pair that saw a re-release in 2013, this colorway notably includes the words “Strength” and “Courage,” which both aided Johanson in overcoming lymphoma. Red dresses both the elephant print mudguards and the diamond pattern-covered upper as black contrast and a semi-translucent outsole creates a striking look that continues to be appreciated with time.

Air Jordan 4 by Isaiah Scott (2011)

When Isaiah Scott designed his Nike Doernbecher shoe, there were two things on his mind — Superman and the Jumpman. Bestowed the “Superman” nickname by his mother, Scott embraced this identity by outfitting the Air Jordan 4 in a Superman versus Kryptonite-themed finish. Scott assembled a black pair of AJ4s that features eye-catching accents ranging from bright greens to blue stitching with Superman’s “S” logo prominently displayed at the tongue. Additional thematic detailing comes courtesy of the outsole’s comic book-inspired hits.

Nike Air Foamposite One by Elijah Diggin (2013)

Elijah Diggins’ Air Foamposite One was another DB drop so nice it released twice. Having faced Burkitt’s Leukemia, Diggins was able to celebrate his journey of overcoming cancer by crafting a black and red Foamposite that honored his favorite athlete — LeBron James. Red runs throughout the upper with black notes contrasting the pair as personal details to Diggins include his initials creating his signature smiley face and a chain-link graphic at the sockliner nodding to the silver bracelet his parents gave him at the start of his chemotherapy.

Nike LeBron 13 by Kian Safholm (2015)

An eleven-year-old Kian Safholm also looked to King James for inspiration, outfitting the Nike LeBron 13 with a sunset fade. The orange-to-purple gradient starts at the toe and reaches to the collar with black detailing serving as the backdrop. “Forever Grateful” — Safholm’s family motto — is depicted at the sockliner and serves as an homage to the Doernbecher team’s care. Lastly, the tongue’s golden signature is accompanied by a glistening “KIAN” tag.

Nike Air More Uptempo by Brody Miller (2017)

Storytelling plays a major role in each Doernbecher Freestyle release, and Brody Miller aced this element when he designed his Air More Uptempo. As an aspiring comic book artist, Miller created a character named Generator Man, to serve as his alter ego. The superhero side of Miller boasts mind control powers and shoots healing energy out of his hands to thwart evildoers. The shoe itself utilizes a blue presentation with yellow and red accents. The traditional “AIR” lettering has also been replaced with “BPM,” Miller’s initials. A hidden feature included is a glow-in-the-dark outsole that reads “BE STRONG” when illuminated.

Air Jordan 15 by Donovon Dinneen (2018)

Not to be confused with the popular “Wings” series of Air Jordans, this black and gold rendition of the Air Jordan 15 by Donovon Dinneen draws its inspiration from a much different source: anime. Dragon Ball Z, Dinneen’s favorite anime, comes to life on the Air Jordan 15 with a Super Shenron-inspired look that is nothing short of regal. The black suede is embossed with Shenron’s dragon scales while nods to Dinneen’s birthday and the Japanese symbol of protection are also included.

Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo 2 by Sawyer Miller (2019)

A competitive gymnast in training, Sawyer Miller underwent extensive treatment at Doernbecher. However, his elementary classmates and teachers came up with a surprise for him. Each Friday, they’d wear green “Team Sawyer” tees with a panda bear (his favorite animal) on them. Carrying this tribute over to his design on the Zoom Pegasus Turbo 2, a cute panda eating a Swoosh is depicted at the lateral midfoot. Another fun reference comes courtesy of the handstand silhouette at the heel, nodding to Miller’s handstand celebration at every check-up that resulted in a clean brain scan.

Nike LeBron 19 by Sam David Phelps (2022)

Lightning struck with Sam David Phelps’ energetic take on the Nike LeBron 19. Equipped with bolts throughout its upper, the energy is channeled through Phelps’ “Never Back Down” motto that is written at the lateral heel in white. Metallic gold panels further enliven the shoe as Phelps’ own fiery wheelchair logo is on display at the tongue. Additional callouts to Phelps are included at the heel, tongue and unique sockliner, resulting in a special rendition of his favorite athlete’s signature shoe.

Nike Zoom Vomero 5 by Jaren Heacock (2023)

Jaren Heacock always dreams big and invited sneakerheads to do the same with the creation of his take on the Nike Zoom Vomero 5. Utilizing a Velcro system at the upper, various patches included with the shoe offer ample customization options — ranging from pixelated Swooshes to Swoosh-shaped dragons and “Team J” callouts, referencing the first letter of his siblings. The pixel graphics are a nod to his favorite game — Minecraft — and its dragon-inspired design honors Heacock’s Chinese heritage.

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