These new shoes from Nike are pretty sweet, both in form and function, and they were inspired by a single moving letter from a 16-year-old living with cerebral palsy. Florida high schooler Matthew Walzer was just within reach of independent living, but desperately in need of a shoe he could lace up without someone else's assistance.
So Walzer wrote a letter to Nike CEO Mark Parker asking for help.
Here's a portion of his letter:
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.
The letter reached its intended recipient. After three years, Nike recently released Flyease, which allow a person to put them on using one hand. Walzer was involved a long time before Flyease hit the general market, serving as a tester of the prototype the same year that he wrote to Parker:
The footwear that Nike designed for LeBron James turned out to be a great model for the ankle and foot support Walzer needed, which meant Walzer got not only new shoes, but a new pal.
I asked Peter Morency, who first alerted me to these awesome shoes and who also has cerebral palsy, what got him so excited about them:
Like Matthew Walzer who wrote to Nike, I too have Cerebral Palsy (CP). I was born at 25 weeks, almost 4 months before my due date. I was 2 lbs. when I was born and had a stroke at 10 days old, which gave me CP.
I too can’t tie shoes (many people with CP lack the fine motor skills in one or both hands to tie shoes, do zippers, etc.). Shopping for shoes is difficult because right off the bat, you are limited to shoes that you can slip on and off or Velcro shoes, which don’t look great. It becomes an hours long, sometime day long affair to find a pair that works. I have a few pairs of shoes that tie, but at 24 I am sick of asking my parents or a friend "Hey, can you tie my shoes?" Second, many people with CP need ankle support, which most sneakers typically don’t have. The fact that a major company is making a shoe for people with disabilities is huge for me and many others. The other thing is, these shoes look GOOD. Thanks to Matthew Walzer for writing to Nike, and thanks to Nike for listening. A lot of people’s lives are going to become easier because of these shoes, including mine.
Even in the age of too many emails, it turns out that writing a letter to a company asking for help can still work in great ways.