Public rises to help world’s tallest man buy shoes

Igor Vovkovinskiy, seen here September 12, 2009 at a health rally led by President Barack Obama in Minneapolis, Minnesota, claimed the honor of being America's tallest living person on May 25, 2010. Vovkovinskiy, of Rochester, Minnesota, stands 7 feet, 8.33 inches tall. (Renee Jones Schneider/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

ROCHESTER, Minn. – Igor Vovkovinskiy, the tallest man in America, just wanted a pair of shoes that didn’t cause him crippling pain.

The modern-day giant was astounded that the cost of making shoes for a man with no existing shoe size was about $16,000. So he posted a plea on Facebook in March.

“I am 7’ 8.33” tall, and I haven’t had a proper-fitting pair of shoes for more than 6 years,” he wrote. “No matter what company I write to, or how many friends of mine ask companies to help me ... nobody wants to help if there is no benefit for them.”

Could readers please help? Thousands did, donating more than $38,000 in the latest example of the power of nontraditional fundraisers. About a half-dozen shoe manufacturers also have stepped forward, including a Minnesota company.

So far, there is no shoe deal, Vovkovinskiy said. But now that he’s gotten everybody’s attention, he expects to announce which company will take up his challenge in a few weeks. Meanwhile, he’s grappling with how to handle the unexpected windfall, as well as the thousands of well-wishers who flood his Facebook and his gofundme.com pages.

“I just want to be able to walk out of the house without worrying about pain,” said Vovkovinskiy, who says it now feels like his feet are “getting stuck with ice picks.”

“I’d like to do simple things, like maybe go window shopping at a mall.”

The tallest man in America was born in the Ukraine 29 years ago. His mother, Svetlana, brought him to Rochester in 1989, when he was 6 years old and nearly 6 feet tall. She hoped doctors could remove the tumor on his pituitary gland that was responsible for his towering growth. But the tumor was too deeply for complete removal.

Sipping coffee at a restaurant last month, where even seated he was taller than most standing customers, Vovkovinskiy said the lack of decent shoes closed the doors on a normal life early on.

He said he spent a lot of time at the YMCA when he was young, playing basketball and other sports. But by middle school, finding shoes was a problem. .

His size 26 feet have endured 16 surgeries. The big man with the boyish face has managed to work and to attend college, where he is studying to be a paralegal. But his life is mainly at home.