BEAVERTON, Oregon – Matthew Walzer, 19, said putting on shoes was nearly impossible. He has cerebral palsy, and often had to ask his parents to help him get dressed.
He wanted to be able to do it on his own by the time he left for college. So when he was 16, he sent Nike a letter, asking for help.
“By the time you turn 16,” he said, “it gets frustrating or embarrassing if you’re out with your friends and your shoe comes untied and you have to ask your friend, ‘Hey, can you bend down and tie my shoe for me?’”
According to Huffington Post, Walzer’s letter ended up with Nike CEO Mark Parker. The letter was then given to Tobie Hatfield, Nike’s senior director of athlete innovation.
Now, three years after that letter arrived at Nike, the future of shoes for people with disabilities will no longer be just an idea.
On Thursday, Nike’s Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease will be released to the public.
Hatfield said he began researching shoes for people with disabilities back in 2006 when Sarah Reinertsen, a paratriathlete, came to him.
“She was mentioning how much of a hassle it is to buy a pair of shoes, cut the shoe … and fit it and glue it on, Velcro it on, tape it on, all that kind of stuff,” Hatfield recalled.
Between Walzer’s letter and Reinertsen’s suggestions, Hatfield was able to create Flyease technology: a shoe that zips in the back and has no laces, making easy access and adjustment simple.
Walzer’s favorite athlete, LeBron James, just so happens to be involved too. The Zoom Soldier 8 shoe is a part of his series with Nike.
“There is a real need for a solution like this and it feels good to be a part of something that is going to help so many people,” James said on Nike.com.
For Walzer and Hatfield, the future of these shoes seems to be nothing but bright.
“Up until working with Nike, when I needed a new pair of shoes, we had to go the mall and make a day out of it. We’d go to every store,” Walzer said. “Before even seeing if they were comfortable, it had to be easy for my parents to get my foot into the shoe.”
Hatfield said he looks forward to working with the military and injured veterans.
Both U.S. basketball teams competing in the 2015 Special Olympics will receive these shoes as well.