PLEASANT GROVE — After bringing home the trophy for the state's stinkiest sneakers, 6-year-old Israel King will travel to Vermont next week to compete for the national title.
It started when King and his parents walked by the Odor Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest at the Utah State Fair in September. He was wearing his favorite Spider-Man shoes that light up when he walks.
"They were calling out, ‘Who has stinky feet?'" said King's mom, Hannah. "He was wearing those shoes and I knew they reeked, but it took a little persuading."
Each of the competitors' shoes was judged on condition and smell. When King was named champion his parents were a little embarrassed, but they quickly saw the accomplishment as "embarrassingly cool."
"As soon as he won, I called my family and they couldn't stop laughing," said King's father, Jake. "All of them said, ‘That's funny, but it doesn't shock me.' My dad has stinky feet and mine stink if I'm in my shoes too long. I think it gets passed down."
King is the youngest champion to go compete for the national title this year, with the oldest being 13 years old. To out-stink his competition, King wears his shoes everywhere. He runs in them, plays soccer and goes hiking. He's proud of his stinky sneaker trophy and likes sharing his story with friends.
"I walk around with them a whole bunch because I like them and they light up," King said. "I'm walking around with them a lot, with no socks!"
The Rotten Sneaker Contest has been held for 38 years. Not all 50 states compete each year, but a handful of states are selected to bring winners to Vermont. This year winners from Utah, New Mexico, Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, Georgia, Alaska and Vermont will compete against each other for an all-expense-paid trip to New York City and a $2,500 cash prize.
The final competition will take place in Montpelier, Vt. on March 19. A panel will judge each shoe based on the condition of the sole, tongue, heel, laces or Velcro, as well as interior wear-and-tear and odor. The panel of judges includes NASA Chemical Specialist George Aldric and Rachel Herz, the author of "That's Disgusting."
Joy Robinson has organized the contest for 15 of the 38 years. Year after year, the Odor Eaters contest aims to teach kids and families about hygiene, especially when it comes to feet. While each year brings new sets of sneakers, the stenches vary.
"Sometimes little kids have smellier feet than the older kids," she said. "Some kids wear no socks, some kids wear the shoes from when they work on the farm, some go into chicken coops. But they all really stink."
King put his $200 winnings from the Utah competition into his family's Disneyland savings jar. They've been saving for over a year, and if he wins in Vermont they will get to add a few extra days to their California trip. But King's parents are more excited that he'll get to see other parts of the country and have new experiences.
"It's nice to have him go and see things," said Jake King. "Even if it's because of his stinky feet, it's the opportunity he gets to see somewhere else."