Penchant for free stuff leads to shoe tester ‘career’


I love free stuff. Several alluring sites on the net supply me with an endless supply of free magazines, coffee samples, tiny bottles of lotion, and sometimes disgusting and regrettable energy bars that do not, and I repeat, do not taste like delicious dark chocolate and almond anything.

Currently, I receive a dozen magazines: Latina, Better Homes and Gardens, Redbook, Popular Science, Fortune, Martha Stewart Living, US Weekly, several wellness journals, and a curious assortment of publications catering to the rich and famous.

I have never owned a yacht, nor even set foot on one, but I can tell you how to decorate one for summer outings on the Amalfi Coast, should the need arise.

It was through the magical “free stuff” portal that I connected to the opportunity to test prototypes of walking and running shoes for a major purveyor of athletic products. I am now evaluating my 15th pair.

The test shoes arrive carefully marked and packaged, with special green tags identifying their new and mysterious place in the athletic footwear world.

I become a part of the vetting, helping to finalize the process of evaluating this new shoe’s worthiness to be marketed to “middle-age women who walk for health and energy,” an important population these days, or so I have been led to believe.

For the next six to eight weeks, depending, I wear the shoes as often as possible, noting details about form, feature and function. I have a secret ID number and password, to access the magic portal to Test Shoe Evaluation Central.

Are the laces long enough or perhaps too long? What about lift? Do I feel light and lithe or heavy and cumbersome?

I am known on the site as a “top rated evaluator” for my detailed and timely reports. This makes me feel special, especially since I have no singular athletic prowess.

Reports are filed at three stages during the studies, each assessment point more complex. There is a section on aesthetics and appeal, and in this venue that I often have a great deal to say. I may not be a great athlete, but I am a gifted shopper and it is perhaps for this skill that I was selected and retained over the years.

Spare me the bulky, white orthopedic look or the beastly black “clodhopper.” I want silver stripes, a substantive, yet sporty line, a burst of color at some point, preferably purple or teal.

Many of the testers that cross my threshold have been excellent. But a few have been disappointing.

A heavy pair of what looked like the black, plastic shoes that Minnie Mouse wore in the early Disney days was shipped to my attention.

Though quite comfortable, like wearing puffy, black marshmallow shoes, reactions from my students at the college were priceless.

“Dr. Bone, where did you get those shoes?” Or, from my BFF, “Are you kidding me? I refuse to walk to the coffee shop with you unless you go back inside and change.”

Twice, I received leather, strappy “walking shoes,” not trainers to evaluate; both pairs were quite expensive looking and attractive. One felt like “butter,” and the other, not so much, but that is a different story.

I like a shoe with a nice, thick, sloped sole. This must hark back to my hippie days in the 1970s when Dr. Scholl’s exercise sandals were all the rage. Are there any real benefits? Probably not.

I keep hoping for a test pair with a small light in the heel, to flash when I take steps at night in the park or return late from a hike on vacation.

If they could make it look classy, and not like a cartoon character sneaker for toddlers, that would be nice. I realize I may be asking too much.

After I returned the last pair of test shoes, the spot in my laundry room where I keep the empty return box while in a testing cycle looks bare. I am always ready. Exercise science needs me.

Dr. Linda Karges-Bone is a professor, author, and host of the daily radio program “Prayerful Parenting.” She lives in Summerville and can be seen walking daily with “Ellie,” her Australian cattle dog.