Matthew Walzer and Tobie Hatfield

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A teenager’s letter to Nike expressing aggravation at not being able to tie his own shoes led the company to develop its first shoe specifically for people with disabilities.

“At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes,” wrote Matthew Walzer in the summer of 2012. “As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating and, at times, embarrassing.”

In response to his letter, Walzer received a phone call from Nike employee John Poyner, who, like Walzer, has cerebral palsy. Poyner reached out after the letter was picked up by Nice Kicks, a website that covers sneaker news and information. He told Walzer that he was proud of his efforts and filled him in on the next steps, something Walzer said gave him “chills.”

“I knew what I was doing was, in football terms, ‘a Hail Mary,’ and to be quite honest, I had very low expectations. I was expecting a very polite letter back in recognition of my request,” Walzer wrote in a subsequent letter to Nike CEO Mark Parker.

Poyner made sure Walzer’s heartfelt letter found its way to Nike designer Tobie Hatfield, who, coincidentally, was already working on an adaptive “entry-and-closure” system shoe for Special Olympians and Paralympians who had difficulty putting on and taking off shoes.

After developing several sample pairs of shoes for athletes, Hatfeld was set on mass production, but not before beginning work on prototypes to address Walzer’s specific needs.

“I had heard of Tobie Hatfield only 24 hours prior to the phone call (from Poyner). … I could have never imagined that he would be working with me on a shoe that I can put on myself,” Walzer said.

Several months later, Hatfield sent Walzer a prototype shoe for wear testing.

Matthew Walzer

“In talking to Matthew and many other athletes with disabilities, the ease of entry was just as important as the lacing solution,” said Hatfield. “While varying levels of mobility make it difficult to provide a universal solution, we feel this is a significant development for anyone who has ever struggled with independently securing their foot within Nike shoes.”

Over a three-year period, Hatfield perfected the design of the shoe that would eventually be introduced commercially as the Nike FLYEASE. The shoe features a wrap-around zipper that opens the back of it near the heel. At the same time, the wrap-around zipper provides sufficient support and eliminates the need for laces.

Matthew Walzer and Tobie Hatfield

“There are not enough thank yous in the world to express my undying gratitude towards you and Nike as an entire company. I will never forget what you and your company are doing for me,” Walzer wrote to Parker, the Nike CEO.

Walzer admits he was surprised to be working directly with Hatfield on a design to potentially benefit him and so many others. He wasn’t expecting much of a response to his letter at all.

“I am still in shock that one week ago I received shoes from your amazing company, Nike. Your talented team of designers has thoughtfully created a shoe that for the first time in my life, I can put on myself.

“I have had them for a short amount of time, but I when I put them on every morning, they give the greatest sense of independence and accomplishment I have ever felt in my life,” Walzer wrote in another letter to Parker.

Walzer, now a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University, achieved his goal of putting on his own shoes. And the final version of the shoe that Walzer encouraged Nike to produce just happens to be the shoe worn by his basketball hero, LeBron James, whom he had the opportunity to meet.

“I am very honored and blessed that my shoe is part of the whole process. This is an unbelievable story, and Nike has done a great job of being able to create something that’s so incredible and will last a lifetime,” James said.

LeBron Soldier 8 FLYEASE

Later this month, Nike will send the shoes to two U.S. basketball teams participating in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, taking place from July 25 through Aug. 2 in Los Angeles.

The LeBron Soldier 8 FLYEASE is available now in limited quantities at Nike.com.

Jacob Kuerth is the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator at Paraquad. He can be reached at jkuerth@paraquad.org.

Photo credit: Nike

One comment on “Nike Develops Shoe for People with Disabilities”

  1. 1
    Robert Watts on July 18, 2015

    I just became paralyzed from my waist down I had a disc brake off pressed against my spine and they had to do emergency laminectomy surgery at St. Joseph Health Center St.Charles Mo. I’m now in SSM REHABILITATION HOSPITAL Bridgeton Mo.The shoes I could use as well. I can’t feel my ankle so the hi top might be good for them. I not asking for something free but I would be interested in purchasing a pair . I’m 49years of age and I have been wearing Nike since I was 13 when I purchased my first pair in the PX in Frankfurt Germany for 13.00dollars of White Nike Cortez with red swoosh. My father served 23 years in the Army and of them we served with him in Germany. I want thank you for your time Blessing To You.

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