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Bellevue High School grad moving athletes forward one step at a time with track shoe invention
Kate Cox had seen that walk before. In fact, she had done it.
A competitor in track and field during her days at Bellevue High School, and later at Western Washington University, Cox was all too familiar with the sight of an athlete awkwardly maneuvering about on his or her heels to avoid grinding down their spikes once leaving the track surface to go to the bathroom or grandstand.
"I was doing this heel-shuffle," she said. "There usually isn't time to change or put on my running shoes, and I wished there was something I could put on over my spikes."
The need for a product that fit over track spikes to protect them on pavement or metal surfaces was obvious to Cox. But when she started exploring for a solution to her problem, she found few roads to travel.
"At the time, there was nothing on the market," she said. "I wondered if I could actually develop something."
Cox graduated from Western and moved to San Diego, where she began developing prototypes with discarded flip-flops from a nearby footwear company, and a host of other materials.
The top layer of a car floor mat, elastic, foam, and the rubber-soled flip-flop eventually provided the foundation for a spike cover. In the late 2000s, Cox began the painstaking process of acquiring a patent. By then, a product with a similar aim was available for purchase, but Cox found it had little traction in the track and field community.
"It looked cool, but it didn't have the right design," she said. "No one I had talked to had ever heard of it. But they still needed something."
The patent came through in 2011, and Cox partnered with a company in West Seattle to advance the design and manufacture her track spike cover, known as Spikease.
She connected with John Hill, still the head track and field and cross country coach for the Wolverines and also an employee at Super Jock and Jill running store, and offered free samples to his squad and her other former team at Western.
"It's a unique concept that she spent a lot of time working on," Hill said, adding he had seen the competitors and felt they lacked the nuance and practicality of Cox's design. "She has gone the long route to get it right."
Social media has provided another outlet for her grassroots marketing, which also included setting up a display at high school track meets and pounding the pavement at retailers in the area.
"I would just walk into running stores and show it to them," she said. "I just wanted to get it out there and show as many people as possible."
A post on the photo sharing network Instagram led to Spikease gaining interest from unlikely channels, which led to more online buzz when one of the members of Jamaica's world record holding 800 meter relay team saw the product.
Cox's efforts paid off when she landed in Super Jock 'N Jill in Seattle's Greenlake neighborhood, as well as national running and walking chain Road runner Sports, which has a location in Bellevue.
The process has taken years, and consumed most of the free time left after taking care of her child (Cox is now pregnant with her second child), holding down a full-time job and coaching track and field at Seattle Prep. But helping runners move forward, and not just on their heels, has made it worthwhile.
"The best thing is being at a track meet and seeing a kid use the product to go get a baton they forgot in their bag," she said. "That is really thrilling."