49er Kyle Nelson Wears JW House Designer Cleats for the Win

Story by Diane Andrews

It was a close game for the out-of-town San Francisco 49ers playing against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Dec. 3, 2017. Maybe it was the designer cleats some of the 49ers sported that gave them the extra oomph for a fourth quarter, three-point field goal, resulting in a 15 to 14 narrow victory over the Bears.

For a second year, the 49ers were among other National Football League teams that wore custom-made cleats on the field in Week 13 of the season as part of the “My Cause My Cleats” initiative. Each participating player chose a cause to support, and after the game, his cleats—designed to reflect his cause—were auctioned to raise funds for the non-profit cause.

Seventeen 49ers participated in 2017. JW House, located on the campus of Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center, was the cause long snapper Kyle Nelson sought to raise awareness and support for.

JW House is a comfortable “home away from home” for families whose children are facing medical crises. For a day or a night or a week, for as long as needed, while their children are in the hospital, families can find respite there—a good meal, a home to relax in, a comfortable bed and someone to offer moral support.

“Families facing medical crises need rest and self-care while their loved one is in the hospital. I want to bring hope and encouragement to those going through the unimaginable,” said Nelson.

JW House is the dream come true of Jan Willem (JW) Knapen, who thought of building a respite house in 2004 while battling an inoperable brain tumor. The Belgian-born San Jose teen lost his battle in 2005, a month shy of his 17th birthday. But before he died, $500,000 had been raised towards building his dream house, which opened almost 10 years ago in October 2008.

The 49ers Foundation hosted a design event at Levi’s Stadium on Nov. 14, 2017, bringing together the football players, representatives from the chosen nonprofits and a professional artist. They put their heads together and drew designs for the cleats, which the artist transferred to the football shoes.

JW’s mom, Board member Anne Marie Knapen-Asnong, and his 17-year-old brother, Alexander Knapen, were part of the JW House design team, along with the Anna Sanchez and her children, Annabella, Noe and Adrian.

The Sanchez family has been day use guests of JW House for two years. Sanchez has had a child in Subacute Saratoga Hospital since the girl’s birth two years ago. She requires a trach tube, and the family has not yet been able to take her home.

“We wanted those cleats to look special, but we also wanted them to look meaningful, so we put a lot of thought into what should be on them,” said Knapen-Asnong. “And it was really nice to see how everybody came together, and we think they will really look neat.”

Nelson’s cleats are white with white laces. A green butterfly, words such as grateful, love, caring, hope, healing, hospitality and hug, and a sketch of JW House are on one shoe.

On the second shoe are the names of the Sanchez family, others and a photo of JW with his remembered words: “Never give up and do believe that everything finally leads to something good.”

The winning bid on Nelson’s cool, one-of-a-kind cleats was $1,510, with all proceeds benefitting JW House. Now that’s a win for all.