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Meet The Teen With Cerebral Palsy Who Inspired Nike's First Ever 'Hands-Free' Shoe

Image credits: Nike.

Image credits: Nike.

The shoe brand’s FlyEase is an easy-entry footwear system designed by Tobie Hatfield.

Nike has introduced its first-ever hands-free sneakers - the Nike Go FlyEase with adaptive athletes in mind. Unveiled on February 1, the Go FlyEase is receiving widespread acclaim for its accessibility regardless of the wearer’s physical abilities.

The shoe brand’s FlyEase is an easy-entry footwear system designed by Tobie Hatfield. The inspiration behind Nike’s latest launch design is a letter written to the company in 2012. It all began nearly a decade back when a teenager with cerebral palsy sent a letter imploring one of the world’s largest athletic brands.

The letter by then 16-year-old Matthew Walzer was written so that the brand considers “being the forerunner in producing athletic shoes that will make the difference in the quality of so many lives.”

Walzer’s letter was noticed by innovative Nike designer Tobie Hatfield, who invited the boy to collaborate on a hands-free sneaker design.

Matthew Walzer, now 25, in his letter reckoned that his two month month premature birth led to his cerebral palsy. The high schooler was born weighing only two pounds, 14 ounces with underdeveloped lungs which did not allow his brain to receive enough oxygen.

The doctors on Walzer’s cerebral palsy diagnosis informed his parents he would never walk. However, Walzer was prepared to turn his fate around as he never developed an anticipated speech impediment. He was a great student exploring his college options.

For the unversed, cerebral palsy is a cluster of disorders which impacts a person's movement, balance, and posture. Walzer, who was stepping into his junior year of high school, had dreams of applying to college, like many others his age. Striving to become totally self-sufficient, he did not want to depend on someone to have his shoelaces tied so he decided to contact Nike.

Tying his own shoelaces was a challenge despite overcoming several physical limitations.

Tobie Hatfield wanted to consult Walzer so that he could create a shoe design that would match his request and address his specific need. The same year, the company moved to act and designed a shoe for wear testing.

After the prototype, Hatfield continued to work on creating shoes to help those with special needs. This journey led to the creation of the revolutionary Nike FlyEase, three years later. The intuitive design would be attractive to anyone with a limited range of physical abilities. The wearer can slip on the novel shoe without bending over. Paralympian champion fencer Bebe Vio will front the commercial campaign for Nike’s most innovative design to date.

The sneakers will initially be available to Nike Members who receive an invite. The shoe is expected to become available for a wide release later this year. With a price tag of $120 (INR 8,752), the shoe officially drops later in 2021.