What do LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Matthew Walzer have in common? No, it’s not NBA Championship titles – all three have inspired Nike to create a sneaker in their honor.
Then a junior in high school, Walzer, who has cerebral palsy, explained in his letter that the lack of flexibility in one of his hands meant that it was impossible for him to tie shoelaces, and asked for a shoe line that would allow him to be fully independent when he went off to college.
It just so happened that Tobie Hatfield, Nike’s director of athletic innovation, had been working for years to make sneakers more accessible, after Nike CEO Mark Parker had expressed his desire to develop something to help the company’s first employee, Jeff Johnson, after he had a stroke.
Inspired by the letter, Hatfield reached out and worked with Walzer to develop their new Flyease technology, which replaces laces with a zipper that wraps around the back of the shoe, allowing the wearer to “peel” it open and slide his foot in.
“Flyease is so easy to use and yet so revolutionary … This is by far the easiest and most comfortable shoe I have ever worn,” Walzer told Mashable.
In addition to making the dreams of Walzer – now 19 and a student at Florida Gulf Coast University – come true, Nike is also sending the cutting-edge sneakers to two U.S. basketball teams that will compete in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, which kick off on July 25 in Los Angeles.
The company is also releasing the Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease to the general public in limited quantities on Nike.com starting on Thursday, July 16. (Walzer, of course, got a pair ahead of everyone else.)
And how exactly is the man who kicked off a sneaker revolution feeling about everything that’s come from his letter?
“It feels great to have this shoe made for everyone and to be the catalyst for such a great project,” Walzer said. “Writing my letter three years ago, I honestly wasn’t expecting much at all, maybe a polite letter from customer service … I couldn’t be more proud that people will be able to have this long, overdue independence.”