HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — Sometimes it takes a small step to change the world.
Seven-year-old Luke Gillis, a second-grader at Hoosick Falls Central School, is a youth wrestler for both the Hoosick Falls and Catamount teams. Competing in the first tournament of the season in Colonie, Gillis saw that some of the other kids in the tournament were wrestling in their socks — they didn't have a pair of wrestling shoes to compete in.
"Luke said he felt really bad about that and it was when the Powerball was at [$1 billion] and he said, 'Can we give [some of] the money if we win it," said Luke's mom, Nicole Gillis. "I told him that the odds are that are slim, but he kept thinking about it and wondered if we could do a fundraiser."
That's how Luke's Project Wrestling Shoes started.
"I feel bad if someone is wrestling in their socks, because they might come in fourth," said Luke, talking about the disadvantage of wrestling in socks.
Luke started wrestling three years ago.
"During the summer [when he was five], he was playing King of the Hill with his [older siblings] and he was beating them up, and I said, we have to get him into wrestling," Nicole said.
He wrestled for the Hoosick Falls youth club to start, then for the past year has wrestled for the Catamount youth club in Bennington as well.
At first, Nicole set up a page at a site called www.booster.com, which designs T-shirts for different causes and gives all the money (other than the cost of designing the shirt) back to the cause.
They sold a few, making about $75 and the success gave them a boost to move on to a different type of fundraiser.
So Nicole set up a GoFundMe and a Facebook page to continue to spread the message and raise even more money.
On the GoFundMe page, Nicole described what was literally keeping her son awake at night.
"Watching them struggle to compete in slippery socks really upset him; literally kept him up that night," Nicole wrote. "When he finally told me why he couldn't sleep, I explained that their parents may be waiting to make sure their children liked wrestling before they bought them wrestling shoes since they could be quite pricey. But then he asked, 'What about the kids that can't pay for them, Mom? If we win the lottery can we buy them some?"
The GoFundMe was started on January 26 and they have raised more than $750 in about six weeks.
"My little boy has a good point, what about the kids who love the sport as much as he does but can't afford to buy the proper equipment," Nicole continues. "The kids who are forced to pass up what could be their "calling" as an athlete, all because they can't afford the necessary gear to participate? Well hopefully, that's where you all come in. Luke needs help buying wrestling shoes and head gear for children in need, and he hopes to pass on his love and enthusiasm for the wonderful sport of wrestling along the way. As the saying goes, "Once you've wrestled, everything else seems easy."
All season, Luke has also upped the ante with his "wrestling challenges." If he doesn't place in the top 3 at a tournament, Luke will donate $20 to his own campaign and if he does take top 3, he's challenging others to make that donation.
"He wants people to send in money, so he tries harder," Nicole said.
Jason Dicranian, a Catamount coach, said he's touched with Luke's drive toward his goal.
"For a kid his age to think about others that might not be able to afford shoes or singlets, I was really impressed," Dicranian said. "Luke is such a good kid and he has the right idea. Coming over to wrestle at Catamount, he's been a pleasure to have and he's turned into a very good wrestler. To see a 7-year-old do this, it says a lot about him and his family."
Nicole said that the sport has changed her son's outlook on life.
"He's increased his confidence, he's usually shy and reserved, but he's more outgoing now," Nicole said. "He's not afraid of competition, it toughens him up because he puts so much dedication into it."
They've also made up silicone bracelets that they are selling for $3 and a local Hoosick Falls business, Little Sprouts Baby Bump and Beyond, has been selling them in their store.
Nicole said that Mike Laporte, who had run the Hoosick Falls youth program, was planning to donate any used shoes that the kids had outgrown after the season ended.
After doing some research into the cost of wrestling shoes, her goal is to reach $5,000, which would provide 700 pairs of shoes, she said.
"Then it could reach far more than just Hoosick Falls or Bennington," Nicole said. "But I'm happy with anything over a thousand [dollars]."
Setting up the fundraising and Facebook pages has turned a local project into one that's been shared throughout the country and even into other parts of the world.
Nicole said a wrestling fan from Egypt even shared the page.
Luke and other members from both Hoosick and Catamount will walk in the village's St. Patrick's Day parade on Saturday, which starts at 1 p.m. from Wood Park on Main Street. The kids will be getting the word out about the fundraiser.
"It's a good thing from Hoosick Falls with all the other stuff that's going on in town," Nicole said.