Matthew Walzer penned an open letter to Nike CEO Mark Parker in the summer of 2012, about living with cerebral palsy and the difficulty in tying shoe laces. Little did he know that it would be the start of a long association with Nike.
In his letter, Matthew described how despite overcoming several physical challenges, something as simple as tying his shoes was among the most difficult tasks for him. As someone planning to attend college soon, the concern was real and pressing for Matthew. His simple request to Nike was to consider designing a shoe that would enable him and countless others like him to overcome this challenge and be more independent.
Originally posted at Matthew’s blog
His letter, simply known as the #NikeLetter, quickly became viral on social media. It caught the attention of Mark Parker, who promptly alerted Nike’s senior director of athletic innovation Tobie Hatfield. This led to a three-year development process, resulting in the creation of the Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease – a new line of footwear with an easy-entry mechanism that people with muscle disabilities can wear without any difficulty, and most importantly, on their own.
Listening – and acting – to make a difference
When Tobie Hatfield came across the letter, he was incidentally working with Paralympians to address the same challenges Matthew faced, and also with the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Matthew’s letter inspired his team to further innovate and make the shoe available in the market for everyday people. He invited Matthew on board and with his inputs, perfected the Flyease technology for its special line of shoes.
Hatfield says, “The main thing was about him getting in the shoes, adjusting the shoes, closing the shoes, and then be able to get out of the shoes, all by himself.”
Matthew with the Flyease prototype
The Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease launched earlier this year. It was inspired by Matthew’s favorite basketball star LeBron James. And, Nike sent the shoes to two U.S. basketball teams participating in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games.
He inspired us at Nike to be able to bring something special for the masses. I think it’s an unbelievable story, and I’m very honored and very blessed that my shoe is part of the whole project. The inspiration that he gave us is going to last for a lifetime.
The Flyease technology will next be used to make running shoes for disabled athletes. The shoe could be a life-changer for many people – and brings to life Nike’s motto – If you have a body, you are an athlete.
This post is a part of our People’s Insights monthly brief for August & September, Innovation without Boundaries.