By Ryan Yousefi
In 2012, Matthew Walzer was a 16-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who had already defied the odds and conquered many of the challenges that come with living with cerebral palsy. From walking with minimal assistance to learning how to speak without a lisp, he was an example of what someone could do by overcoming obstacles in their path.
As he prepared for college, he wondered if his favorite shoe company, Nike, would help him overcome one more tedious hurdle: tying his own shoes. Walzer wrote a letter to the footwear giant asking one single question; “Can you help?”
What started with the letter that Walzer described as a “Hail Mary” attempt to get Nike’s attention has become the inspiration for their Go FlyEase, shoe offering a completely hands-free way to put on shoes, making it easier for people with disabilities.
The FlyEase is the first shoe that features no laces to tie, no velcro to strap, and no zippers necessary to secure. Step inside, and the shoe wraps around the foot.
“My dream was for Nike to create a basketball shoe that had a closure system that could be used by everybody,” Walzer said. “To see Nike come through with it is fantastic, and it’s going to benefit so many people.”
From 2012 to 2015, Walzer collaborated with Nike on what was the original FlyEase prototypes. Nike would send him over a pair of their latest incarnations of the shoe, and he would relay his feedback on how the rear-entry design could be tinkered. At first, the best Nike had to offer were a pair of their Hyperdunk line of shoes that featured a zipper up the middle and a Velcro strap. That alone changed the game for Walzer, but the best was yet to come.
In 2015, Nike CEO Mark Parker, who put one of the company’s top sneaker designers on the case, invited Walzer, then 19-years-old, to the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, where he was presented the first pair of the Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease shoes by then Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar LeBron James’ himself.
In 2021, the footwear giant more than answered his call in assisting him on his quest for a hands-free basketball shoe. In fact, Nike has taken the alley-oop that was his dilemma and solved it with a slam dunk.
Walzer, now a 25-year-old graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, says the FlyEase is the culmination of a shoe he could only dream existed when he was a teenager.
Now a post-college graduate and advocate for people living with physical disabilities, Walzer reflects on how far his letter has gone and all the lives it will impact as FlyEase expands beyond basketball shoes and into every style Nike has to offer.
“I always thought my vision wasn’t just the shoe wasn’t just for myself,” Walzer said. “Yes, my letter had to do with my going away to college without having to worry about tying my own shoes, but also, there are millions of other people with disabilities that struggle with the same thing. I felt a responsibility to bring this to Nike’s attention.”
While Walzer is ecstatic over how far his partnership with Nike has come and how many lives the FlyEase will soon change, he’s clear that footwear is just the beginning of his quest to make everyone’s shared environment takes into account what people with various disabilities may need.
“People with disabilities have always had to adapt to our environment around us,” Walzer said. “I really think it’s time for the world to adapt to us and take into consideration our needs and how the world can help us.”
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- Ryan Yousefi has lived in Coral Springs for over 30 years. He has worked as a writer for multiples outlets over the years, including the Miami New Times where he has covered sports and culture since 2013. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in Business Healthcare Management from Western Governors University.