Men in heels raise profile, dollars for Modesto women’s center

naustin@modbee.comApril 26, 2014 

— Men stepped up, risking toe blisters, turned ankles and YouTube videos to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Haven Women’s Center’s inaugural Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event Saturday drew more than 200 walkers, men teetering in extra-large high heels and flat-soled friends lending advice, support and the occasional balancing shoulder. The walk started at the Stanislaus County courthouse on I Street, headed to 16th Street, up J to 11th and back.

“I don’t see why women ever do this to themselves,” said Ted Pack, as he passed the mile midpoint with aching toes and a grimace. Pack had chosen stylishly pointy red pumps, but didn’t let fashion defeat him. “I’ve always wanted to look fabulous,” he said, marching on.

The event showed $13,172 raised online by Saturday afternoon, but it was as much about raising awareness as money, said Haven board President Coleen Sparkman. “We had a fabulous time with it,” she said.

Agencies throughout Stanislaus County receive more than 3,000 domestic violence calls every year, according to the Stanislaus Family Justice Center. The Haven Women's Center of Stanislaus, which offers services to victims of domestic abuse, helps about 2,600 women and children annually.

In pain from the start, Sonora contractor John Caswell balanced on size 14 heels for the long hobble. “These hurt,” he said succinctly.

Caswell had black nylon socks reaching to his pant legs. Others sported hairy, well-muscled calves. Matt Gurule’s co-workers at Stanislaus Food added a tutu, black boa and bright-red nail polish to his ensemble.

Rafael Castellanos, 13, complained he was losing feeling in his feet as he struggled to keep up on 4-inch platforms. But Tyler Schell, also 13, said he walked on his toes as a kid and found heels an easy stride. He kept a keen eye out for cracks in the road, however, as his narrow heels tended to catch.

Attorney Rubén Villalobos sashayed easily on black-and-white wedge sandals with perky white bows, his multicolored striped socks adding a one-of-a-kind flair. “They’re better than shoes from the bowling alley,” Villalobos said wryly.

Wobbling along on quaking ankles, bent awkwardly forward, David Holmes said he had a new appreciation for the demands of women’s fashions. “I understand now,” he said.

The shoes came courtesy of the San Joaquin County Women’s Center-Youth & Family Services, which donated more than a dozen boxes of high-heeled wear for men, said Haven volunteer Lee Davis.

Walking-in-heels instructions before the walk came courtesy of Victoria Popoff of Studio V Pilates and Fitness. Reaching 6 feet 4 inches in 5-inch stilettos, the former runway model advised first-timers to lean back, center their weight on their heels and take smaller steps. Transfer weight through hip movement as you walk, she added. “Put a little sass in it.”

After their walk, sore tootsies could get a free message from Mana Luna Wellness Center. Cindy Toste sat rubbing the pressure points of an aching right foot and stretching the toes back to flat. “I know what it is to walk in heels,” Toste said. “I give these guys credit.”

Some 40 minutes after a high-spirited start, Michael Igoe sprinted in red pumps and black track shorts to the finish line. “I saw guys going past me and I just wanted to win it,” he said afterward.

Igoe sported the bright-red shirt of Wanda’s Warriors, the team of Haven board member and California State University, Stanislaus, staffer Wanda Bonnell. University President Joe Sheley led another team of walkers.

“I just said, ‘Hey, guys!’ and these fantastic young men said, ‘We’re in,’ ” Bonnell said. Her team took top honors for fundraising as well as speed, bringing in more then $4,500 for the cause.

The work started with a tongue-in-cheek calendar featuring black-and-white shots of recognizable locals wearing eye-popping candy apple red pumps. K-9 Joker even carries a shoe in his teeth on the “Men of Law Enforcement” page. Pastors, doctors, business leaders and mayors put their best feet forward for the 2014 calendar. Another is planned for 2015, Sparkman said.

Another walk is also planned, this time with shoes handed out days ahead. “We found men really wanted to practice,” Sparkman said.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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