It all began with a letter imploring one of the world’s largest athletic brands to consider “being the forerunner in producing athletic shoes that will make the difference in the quality of so many lives.”
The letter, penned in 2012 by then 16-year-old Matthew Walzer, caught the attention of innovative Nike designer Tobie Hatfield, who invited the high schooler living with cerebral palsy to collaborate on a hands-free sneaker design.
More than eight years later, the company has unveiled Nike Go FlyEase, touted as “easy on, easy off,” lace-less sneakers that require no use of the hands.
Specifically, the shoes feature a tension band that snaps into place once the wearer steps into them, and removing them is as simple as stepping on the heel to release the tension, CNN Business reported.
In his letter, Walzer explained that his birth two months premature with underdeveloped lungs led to his cerebral palsy diagnosis and that doctors told his parents he would never walk. He said he had proved them wrong, never developed an expected speech impediment and was a strong student considering his college options.
“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,” Walzer wrote.
In a 2015 video chronicling the development collaboration, Walzer acknowledged that he expected his request to fall on deaf ears.
“I knew what I was doing was, in football terms, ‘a Hail Mary,’ and to be quite honest I had very low expectations. I was expecting a very polite letter back in recognition of my request. There are not enough ‘thank yous’ in the world to express my undying gratitude,” Walzer is quoted as saying in a post accompanying the video.
In a statement unveiling the new product, Nike touted the design’s broad appeal.
“In the Nike Go FlyEase, this translates to serving the broadest range of active lifestyles possible — whether the wearer is champion fencer Bebe Vio, a student racing to class or a parent with their hands full,” the company stated.
Vio, an Italian fencer who lost both her arms and legs to meningitis as a child and competes in a wheelchair, walks using prosthetic legs. Putting on her shoes is usually a time-consuming activity, CBS News reported.
“With the Nike Go FlyEase, I just need to put my feet in and jump on it. The shoes are a new kind of technology, not only for adaptive athletes but for everyone’s real life,” Vio said in a prepared statement.
Meanwhile, American Paralympic athlete Sarah Reinertsen, a member of the FlyEase design team, confirmed to CBS News that people with disabilities, pregnant women and busy parents were among those who inspired the shoe concept.
“If you design for the most extreme needs, then you’re unlocking benefits for everybody,” Reinertsen said. “If a shoe works for someone who has no hands, then it will work for people who have two hands.”
According to CNN Business, the shoes go on sale Feb. 15 for $120 “for subscribers of the free membership program on Nike’s website,” with “broader availability” planned for later this year.
Cox Media Group