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Lebron James, Tiger Woods, Cristiano Ronaldo, Matthew Walzer.
Most of these names you probably recognize, but one you may not.
What do they all have in common? Nike has designed shoes based on their specific needs and desires.
One of Nike’s newest shoes, the LeBron Soldier 8 FLYEASE, may not be designed to be worn by professional athletes on the biggest stages in sports, but the shoe’s impact may be more important than any championship or trophy.
“I am currently 19 and in my second year of college,” Matthew Walzer, a teenager with cerebral palsy who helped to design the new shoes, told TODAY.com. “The shoes are the reason why I am able to go away to school on my own.”
The story begins in 2012 when Walzer wrote a letter to Nike CEO Mark Parker challenging him and his company to create a shoe that would give him something he’s always strived for: independence.
On October 19, 1995, Walzer was born two months premature. Underdeveloped lungs caused an injury to his brain resulting in cerebral palsy.
“Fortunately, I am only affected physically, as others can be affected mentally, physically, or both,” Walzer wrote in his letter to Nike.
He calls writing the letter to Parker a “hail mary.” But just as in football, every now and then a hail mary results in a touchdown.
After three years of designing and redesigning the shoe, Walzer has helped to create a shoe he hopes goes beyond looking cool and stylish.
“To be able to give input on the design of such an impactful and innovative shoe was an amazing experience,” said Walzer. “To know that I contributed to a shoe that is going to change so many lives makes me feel so proud.”
Walzer wasn’t just the inspiration for the shoe; he helped create the zipper design that easily allows him to slip the shoe on using only one hand.
“The main thing was for him being able to get into the shoes, adjusting the shoes, closing the shoes and then being able to get out of the shoes,” Nike Designer Tobie Hartfield said in a promotional video on the company’s website.
After years of hard work, the shoe is now on sale to the public. For Walzer, trying on the first prototype of the shoe was a dream come true.
“It was the first time ever that I was able to put my own shoes on. I remember breaking down crying.”