According to the Oregonian, a 17-year-old high schooler who was born weighing 2 pounds, 6 ounces with cerebral palsy may have just created a huge shift in the way a $67 billion company does business. The Portland based newspaper reports that Parkland, Florida’s Matthew Walzer wrote a thought provoking letter to executives at Nike this summer, urging them to create a shoe for people living with cerebral palsy. The junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (where he maintains a perfect grade point average) wrote that when he was born, doctors told his parents that he would never be able to walk. Not the case; not only is he walking (albeit with some difficulty) but he is also working hard to attain his independence. And that’s where his letter comes in.
Walzer, who is looking ahead towards college in a year, used Nike’s own tagline “If you have a body, you are an athlete” as a cornerstone for his letter and urged designers to construct a shoe for him and people who share his self-sufficiency and mobility needs.
“…my parents still have to tie my shoes,” Walzer wrote in his letter. “As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating, and at times, embarrassing.”
Walzer’s letter spread all over the twitterverse and took on a life of its own as #NikeLetter. A few days later, Walzer received a call from Nike’s Jordan Brand product manager, John Poyner. Walzer and Poyner, who also has cerebral palsy, spoke for nearly an hour after which Poyner put him in contact with designer Tobie Hatfield. Hatfield had previously worked with Oscar Pistorius (South African double amputee Olympic and Paralympic sprinter) so he was familiar with specifying athletic gear for people with special needs. Hatfield worked with Walzer, picking his brain and getting him to open up about his footwear needs. Nike was able to alter an existing model of one of their shoes by having the laces removed and adding a zipper (with an extended pull-tab) and Velcro enclosure design. It took Nike the remainder of the summer and a few shipments to and from China before Walzer would find a specially packaged shoe box in the mail.
“I opened up the Nike box, and my whole family was in the state of shock. The zipper was long and it had my name on it. I pulled out the shoes and for the first time – I put my own shoes on my own feet.”
Nike continues contact with Walzer in hopes of developing an even better shoe for those living with disabilities and even the elderly. Only time will tell if Nike will open up a market to the disabled community but it appears that with a little help, they are headed in that direction.