Matthew Walzer, a 16-year-old with cerebral palsy, wrote a heartfelt letter to Nike about the struggles he faces trying to tie his shoes. The company responded by inviting him into the design process to create a shoe that would help him and others be more independent.
Like many teenagers, Matthew Walzer dreams of going to college and being independent. However, something was standing in the way of his dream. Because of his cerebral palsy, Matthew couldn’t tie his own shoes.
Cerebral Palsy Impacts Daily Activities
Like others with cerebral palsy, Matthew suffered from a brain injury near his birth that impacts his ability to control his muscle movements. One of the ways this lack of control appears is that only one of his hands is flexible.
While Matthew has been able to learn different ways to work around his disability and be more independent, there are still some tasks he cannot do on his own. This means, while he can get dressed on his own, his parents—and eventually, his future college roommate—need to tie his shoes.
Instead of giving up on his dreams of independence, Matthew decided to do something about it. Because of the excellent ankle support, Matthew wears Nike basketball shoes. So, Matthew chose to write a letter to the company and ask for their help in making a shoe that meets his needs.
Everyone Is an Athlete
In his heartfelt letter, Matthew touched on a couple of different issues that impact many people with cerebral palsy—shoes need to have adequate ankle support and be able to easily slip on instead of lace up.
Matthew explained in his letter that he has been wearing Nike shoes his whole life, but he believed that this was an area where they could improve. “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,” wrote Matthew.
“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.” — Matthew Walzer
Nike Responds With FlyEase Shoe Design
The letter ended up in the hands of Nike designer Tobie Hatfield. Faster than Matthew imagined, he received a message asking for his help designing the perfect shoe for him, and the FlyEase shoe style was born.
This shoe is designed to let its wearer slip into it, which is what Matthew and many others with cerebral palsy need. However, unlike most slip-on shoes, the FlyEase shoe also has adequate ankle support. Tobie and Matthew achieved the ankle support by giving the shoe a wrap-around back with a zipper that is designed to be done up with only one hand.
Now Matthew has a shoe he can put on by himself, which will allow him to pursue his dream of living independently at college.
As an added bonus, once the final project was completed, Tobie invited Matthew to visit him and try it on. While he was there, Nike surprised him by introducing him to his hero, LeBron James.
Since the first FlyEase shoe was finished in 2015, Nike has come out with more shoes that include the adjustable strap and cables to help individuals who struggle to tie their shoelaces from infancy to adulthood.
Kids With Cerebral Palsy Are Like Everyone Else
Matthew is just like everyone else. He dreamed of going to college without having to be held back by the challenges he faced in tying his shoes.
His bravery shows other kids facing similar challenges that they do belong and their needs matter. Companies, like Nike, can take inspiration from their customers and think outside the box to deliver solutions for people of all shapes, sizes and abilities.