Get-hooked March 2, 2021
Matthew Walzer’s letter continues to make an impact nearly 10 years later
March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month and throughout the month we will bring you stories of people with cerebral palsy who are working towards making a difference. Today’s story is on Matthew Walzer, the young man who inspired Nike’s hands-free sneakers, Go FlyEase.
When Matthew Walzer wrote a letter to the Nike CEO Mike Parker requesting for athletic shoes that would meet his specific needs, he wasn’t expecting a response. Walzer, who has cerebral palsy, was tired of asking people to tie his shoes. His dream was to go to a college of his choice without having to depend on someone to tie his shoes every day.
Walzer was born with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that stiffens and tightens the muscles in the body. This affects the use of fine motor skills in his right hand, which makes it impossible for him to tie his shoes.
The letter that touched hearts
In a last ditch effort, he made an appeal to Parker.
“I’ve worn Nike basketball shoes all my life. I can only wear this type of shoe, because I need ankle support to walk… 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,” wrote Walzer, who was 16 years old at the time. “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.”
His mother Beth Walzer expected a “polite response” and little more. Instead, her son’s letter went viral under the hashtag #NikeLetter. Nike shoe designer Tobie Hatfield, who has been designing shoes for Special Olympics athletes and Paralympians with specific shoe needs, reached out to Waltzer and together they designed a show that worked for him. With the prototype Nike designed Walzer went on to join college.
To his delight, Hatfield and his team continued to experiment on a number of designs and lace-free options. Almost 10 years later, Nike unveiled Zoom Lebron Soldier 8 FLYEASE, a shoe that features a wrap-around zipper system. FlyEase is totally hands-free, which makes the shoe even easier to wear and take off. Clearly the #NikeLetter continued to make an impact and the outcome has been appreciated by people around the world. American professional basketball player LeBron James, a supportive ambassador for FlyEase, said, “It’s about us empowering every kid and everybody to understand that we are all athletes”.
The Flyease is for people of all abilities. Remarkable that one letter almost nine years ago continues to bring about so much change. – Matthew Walzer, Author, #NikeLetter
Watch this video where the Nike team behind GO FlyEase talks about the design:
Walzer impact continues
Walzer studied sports management and journalism at the Florida Gulf Coast University and has been recognised across multiple platforms. In 2015, he was honoured in Congressional Record by Congressman Alcee Hastings for contributions to the disabled community. He has won numerous advocacy awards from organisations, such as ARC and United Cerebral Palsy. In October 2017, he helped launch the men’s line of Tommy Hilfiger‘s adaptive clothing line, Tommy Adaptive. He was also a panel speaker at the Obama Administration‘s Design For All event in September 2016 and the commencement speaker at Medical University of South Carolina for the Occupational Therapy school graduating class of 2017.
Earlier this year, in January 2020 Walzer launched a new website. Called Against All Odds, he hopes to create a resource. “My goal is for this to become a resource for those with disabilities and parents of children with special needs through stories and insights of living with cerebral palsy for the past 24 years”. You can access it here.
Even one person can make a difference and change the narrative for thousands of people. Walzer’s story shows us that. He calls the letter a symbol of hope and inspiration for people. “It shows the power that a person’s mind and voice and heart can have on changing the world”.
Watch in Sign Language
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