A Remarkable Athlete Inspires Nike's Latest Shoe Innovation

The New Flyease Shoe Looks Cool, Makes Life Easier for Those With Disabilities

Published On
Jul 15, 2015

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In 2012, Nike founder Mark Parker received a letter via social media from a 16-year-old high school student named Matt Walzer. Throughout his life Mr. Walzer has worn Nike basketball shoes -- not just because he likes them, but also because they address a particular need: Mr. Walzer has cerebral palsy and the brand's b-ball shoes provide him with enough ankle support to help him walk.

Mr. Walzer reached out to Nike because he was about to enter college. Nearly a straight-A student, he had already accomplished many things, but one task, simple for most people, still posed for him a huge challenge:

"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. . . 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."

It turns out, over the years Nike designer Tobie Hatfield had been developing designs to enhance the performance of every sort of athlete -- such as those with limited mobility, including the company's first employee, Jeff Johnson, who had suffered from a stroke and lost mobility of his right side. Thanks to Johnson, Mr. Hatfield started making prototypes of a shoe with an ultra-accessible entry and closure system. Thanks to Mr. Walzer, Nike was inspired to scale the idea for the masses with the introduction of the new and very cool-looking Nike Flyease shoe, which has a wraparound zipper that opens the back end of the sneaker to make it easier to slip a foot in and out, while still providing proper security and fit without the need to tie laces.

The film here documents the journey of the shoe and those who inspired and created it. The LeBron Soldier 8 Flyease, presented to Mr. Walzer in the video, will be available tomorrow on Nike.com in limited quantities. In late July, Nike will be sending the shoes to two U.S. teams participating in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in L.A.