Matthew Walzer is a typical 17 year-old sports enthusiast, straight-A student, and independent teen, but for one thing: his cerebral palsy makes it impossible for him to tie his own shoes. Frustrated, and sometimes embarrassed over this situation, Matthew decided to write a letter to the chief executive of Nike, Mark Parker, describing his passion for sports and his wish for an athletic shoe that he can put on and fasten on his own.
The letter Walzer wrote described how he weighed only 2 pounds, 14 ounces at birth. Doctors told his parents he would never learn to walk, but the doctors were wrong. Walzer can walk, and is an excellent high school student with hopes to go to college next year. The letter went on, asking Parker to design a special shoe which he could handle himself.
“I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes,” Walzer wrote. “As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating, and at times, embarrassing.”
The letter quickly made its way through Facebook and Twitter as the #NikeLetter, finding a home on the sneaker blog nicekicks.com and finally ending up in front of Parker, while he was attending last summer’s 2012 Olympics in London.
Within three days of releasing the letter into cyberspace Walzer was contacted, through Twitter, by a Nike representative, requesting his phone number. That same day Nike product manager, 23-year-old John Poyner called Walzer.
Poyner, who manages Nike’s Jordan Brand, explained to Walzer that he also has cerebral palsy, and also loves sports, even though he can’t participate. The two immediately hit it off and talked for more than an hour.
Soon after the call with Poyner Nike designer Tobie Hatfield also contacted Walzer. Together they discussed Walzer’s various challenges and how hard it is to find a good pair of shoes and what it would take to make a pair of shoes more user friendly for Walzer.
The shoe Hatfield came up with is a variation on a design already in use by Nike: the Hyperdunk basketball shoe. In replace of tricky laces is a zipper with the word “Walzer” on it. An oversized Velcro wrap securely closes around the ankle, making a snug fit. The custom-designed shoes arrived at Walzer’s home on October 28th.
Walzer hopes to one day become a sportswriter. He likes to use coaching as an analogy to describe how he relates to his cerebral palsy, saying that in a certain way having cerebral palsy has helped him.
“It’s that coach that pushes and pushes you to reach your goals. It’s your enemy in a good way and a bad way. It’s your enemy that makes you want to go out there and say ‘I will do whatever I want to do,’” Walzer says.