For those with disabilities, sometimes things most of us take for granted can be excruciatingly difficult. Fortunately, some companies out there are trying to make life easier, like Nike with its easy-entry sneaker line, Flyease.
Instead of a traditional lacing system, the Flyease has a zipper that goes around the back of the shoe so you can zip the shoe open with one hand to more easily get a foot in or out.
The shoe has been in development for some time under Nike designer Tobie Hatfield. But it was a letter from teenager Matthew Walzer to Nike CEO Mark Parker in 2012 that really inspired the team to refine the product and bring the Flyease to market.
When he wrote the letter, Walzer was in high school doing what many kids his age were doing -- thinking about going to college. The difference for Walzer was that he has cerebral palsy, a condition that, among other things, stiffens the muscles in the body. As a result, Walzer had flexibility in only one of his hands, which made it impossible for him to tie his shoes without help from family and friends. He also needed shoes that gave good ankle support, so low slip-ons weren't enough.
For someone dreaming of the independence of college, having to rely on others in such a basic way was frustrating. Fortunately, Walzer's letter struck a chord at Nike, and Hatfield got him involved with the Flyease program.
Walzer says he hadn't expected much of a response, let alone a prototype pair of shoes to test out. Even that first pair worked wonders for Walzer -- he told Hatfield that the shoes "give the greatest sense of independence and accomplishment I have ever felt in my life."
But the shoe still needed a bit of refining. These early prototypes evolved over the last three years into the Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease shoe, which Nike officially announced July 13 and will be released in limited supply via the Nike Web store on July 16.
We've contacted Nike to confirm pricing but didn't immediately receive a reply. We'll update this post once we receive more information.
Nike says it's sending Flyease shoes to two US basketball teams playing in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles in late July to see if they will meet the needs of athletes with other disabilities.
Now a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University, Walzer gets around campus in his new Flyease kicks, and he seems pretty happy about it. You can learn more about Walzer's story and the development of the Flyease line in the video at the top of this post.