In memory of a 'sneakerhead,' Owen High organizes shoe fund for Black Mountain teen

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Owen High has begun setting up a shoe fund in honor of Noah Lehman, an avid runner who died on March 18 at age 19.

To those that who knew him, Noah Lehman, an avid runner throughout his youth, loved shoes. 

He had quite a collection, searching for shoes online and at thrift stores and keeping track of when shoes went on sale. With his shoe cleaning kit, Noah would make even used shoes look new.

"He would spend his own money or use his wit and charm to convince us to invest in an extra pair," Jessica Lehman, his stepmother, said via email. "Some people would probably call him a 'sneakerhead' since he had quite an extensive shoe collection. We certainly didn’t buy all those shoes for him!"

When he died on March 18 at age 19, Owen High School, where he participated in cross country, track and wrestling, thought it fitting to organize a shoe fund in Noah's memory to compile community donations and provide student runners with shoes. 

Noah was bothered when he'd see his teammates without proper or adequate footwear to play sports, according to his father, Joe Lehman and Jessica.

After cleaning shoes to maintain mint condition, Noah would bring extra shoes to practice with him and give them away to his peers in need. 

"His eyes would light up when he could help someone else," Joe said

"He memorized his teammates’ PRs (personal records) and in his head he would calculate what he estimated they could run if they just had a better pair of shoes," Jessica said. "I think some people believe that school sports are free. But regretfully, that’s just not the case."

Owen High Principal Meg Turner said the fund, put together through the Buncombe County Schools Foundation, would compile donations in an account in Noah's name to go toward running shoes for students. Donations will be sent through the foundation to ensure proper tax implications, Turner said. 

"He was a loyal runner," Turner said. "Lots of runners and lots of students here really liked Noah."

Joe and Jessica both work as local school teachers. Jessica said affording fees and equipment oftentimes keeps kids from playing school sports. 

As parents to six children, four of which have participated in athletics at Owen, Joe and Jessica said they know how important sports can be in their kids' lives. Noah was a student at the Nesbitt Discovery Academy, which doesn't have athletics. He graduated in 2021.

The shoe fund, set up in Noah Lehman's name, will provide Owen High students with running shoes for track and cross country.

Noah worked hard to afford new shoes through summer employment with Camp Rockmont, a boys camp in Black Mountain. His parents said he took pride in his work to earn money for the shoes he wanted.

Senior Director Stan Wilson at Rockmont said Noah was a loved and respected member of the camp staff. He said seeing a staff member such as Noah come alive even for washing dishes added a positive element to the camp community.

"He was a vibrant, fun member of that team," Wilson said.

Noah's parents hope to see this spirit carried on through the shoe fund. They said they don't want to see students not try out for a team or have to duct tape cleats back together because of limited access to adequate equipment. 

Hopefully, his parents said, the fund will make students want to be part of a team.

"We are so appreciative of all the administrators, teachers and especially the coaches who have been there for our kids and continue to be there for them," Jessica said. 

Call 1-800-273-8255 to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 866-903-3787 for the National Mental Health Hotline. Please seek and accept help if you need it.

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.