In 2012, Matthew Walzer–a 16-year old born with cerebral palsy–sent the CEO of Nike, Mark Parker, a letter. Walzer requested the iconic company to devise a high-top basketball shoe that he could put on and tie himself.
To quote Matthew:
“Out of all the challenges I have overcome in my life, there is one that I am still trying to master, tying my shoes. Cerebral palsy stiffens the muscles in the body. As a result, I have flexibility in only one of my hands which makes it possible for me to tie my shoes.”
Matthew went on to explain that a) he is a big fan of Nike, and b) that he can only wear the high-top sneaker since he needed ankle support to walk. The letter can be viewed is re-printed in its entirety at the end of this post.
Inspired by Matthew’s letter, Nike designed a shoe that uses a wrap-around zipper-system sewn into a supportive strap. However, the process took three years and several prototypes. The Nike designers at first focused on keeping the shoe locked-down but after consulting with Matthew over Skype, the company learned that the difficulties extended to putting on the shoe as well.
The end-product is a sneaker delivering sport-level stability with a snug fit. And most important, the shoe can be put on with one hand. Renowned Nike designer Tobie Hatfield was on hand to present a pair of the LeBrons to Matthew when the sneaker was released in July 2015.
As of this writing, limited quantities are available and reviews are generally positive although the sneakers tend to be sized on the smaller side and the foot runs slightly narrower than normal. The sneaker retails for $130.
Matthew Walzer is now a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University…he wears his Flyease everywhere.
MATTHEW’S LETTER TO CEO MIKE PARKER OF NIKE
Dear Mr. Parker,
My name is Matthew Walzer. I am a high school student and will be a junior at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
I was born two months premature on October 19, 1995. I weighed only two pounds fourteen ounces, and because my lungs were fully not developed, my brain did not receive enough oxygen. As a result, I have a brain injury that caused me to have Cerebral Palsy. Fortunately, I am only affected physically, as others can be affected mentally, physically or both.
I have overcome many challenges in my life. Although doctors from the country’s top hospitals told my parents that I would never walk; and if I ever talked I would have a major lisp, these diagnoses proved to be false, I walk somewhat independently around my home and use crutches when I’m out or at school. I’ve also never had a speech problem. In fact, I am planning on attending college. I have attained a 3.9 grade point average (4 being the highest) and I am taking advanced placement classes. I have a strong passion for journalism and write for the sports and news sections of my high school newspaper. This year I personally received an award for writing one of the top high school sports columns in my county.
Out of all the challenges I have overcome in my life, there is one that I am still trying to master, tying my shoes. Cerebral palsy stiffens the muscles in the body. As a result I have flexibility in only one of my hands which makes it impossible for me to tie my shoes. My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes everyday
I’ve worn Nike basketball shoes all my life. I can only wear this type of shoe because I need ankle support to walk. I am currently wearing the Lunar hyper gamer and LeBron Zoom Soldier 6’s. At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating, and at times, embarrassing.
I know that Nike makes slip-ons, sandals and other types of shoes. However, I and many other physically challenged people are unable to wear them due to a lack of support. When I think of Nike, I think of one of America’s most innovative and forward thinking companies. Nike is always pushing the limits, making their shoes lighter, faster and stronger by using new materials, new designs and new technologies. This benefits people all around the world. Bill Bowerman said it best, “If you have a body you are an athlete.” I believe everyone, no matter what their physical, economic, or social circumstances may be, deserves to call themselves an athlete, and deserves to have a sense of freedom and independence.
If Nike would design and produce basketball and running shoes with moderate support and some kind of closure system that could be used by everyone, Nike could create a shoe line that attracts people that face the same physical challenges I did and still do, yet it could still be possible for anyone to wear them.
I am always searching the web for any type of shoe brand that makes athletic shoes that provide good support, are self-lacing and are made for everyday wear or for playing sports. It is disappointing that no athletic brand has taken the creative initiative to design and produce athletic shoes in this category. I hope that by bringing this to your attention, Nike will consider being the forerunner in producing athletic shoes that will make the difference in the quality of so many lives.
This letter is not a business proposal. I am simply making you aware that there is a need for this type of athletic shoe, a great need.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. No matter what challenges I’ve faced in my life, I’ve always strived to be independent, independence is for everyone.