Here’s the story of how a young man suffering from cerebral palsy accomplished a task that’s often taken for granted – putting on a pair of shoes – thanks to the new Flyease technology.
Nike has often been at the forefront of groundbreaking technology, whether it’s their performance apparel or footwear. While aesthetics may have overshadowed some of these breakthroughs, the latest Flyease technology that will be found in the upcoming Zoom Soldier 8 basketball shoe is a huge step forward in functionality, as it helps people living with disabilities to secure their feet in a pair of shoes without the need of assistance.
It started seven years ago, when Nike CEO Mark Parker asked its Senior Director of Athlete Innovation, Tobie Hatfield, to design a shoe for the company’s first employee, Jeff Johnson, who had suffered a stroke that rendered his right hand inarticulate. Hatfield made a shoe with two pieces of hinged velcro that wrapped around the instep and heel, which aided Johnson in putting his shoes on during his recovery.
Fast forward to 2012, and former high school student Matthew Walzer, who suffers from cerebral palsy, wrote in to Nike saying: “My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day. I’ve worn Nike basketball shoes all my life. I can only wear this type of shoe, because I need ankle support to walk. At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating and, at times, embarrassing.”
His letter landed in the hands of Hatfield, who reached out to Walzer and began developing prototypes to address his specific needs. That same year, Walzer received a pair of prototype sneakers for testing, but Hatfield wasn’t done yet. He spent the next three years refining the design, and what resulted is the Nike Flyease technology that allows people with certain disabilities to unzip the heel with one hand, slip their foot in, and zip it back up with no tying or untying of laces needed.
Co.DESIGN offers a technical explanation to how Flyease works: “The zipper isn’t any old zipper. It’s been built to work around a curve, a challenge that required Hatfield to tap the expertise of Nike’s apparel team. The zipper itself connects to a velcro strap that seals the top of the shoe. But you don’t need to yank hard on this strap to zip and unzip it. Rather, once the velcro has been undone, you can grab the top of the heel and unpeel it like an orange. Meanwhile, the shoe’s upper tightens and loosens in tandem with the zipper system. How? A tunneling system filled with internal cords wraps from the heel all the way around the shoe’s upper to sit on top of the instep, where they resemble laces.”
For Walzer, being able to wear his own shoes is a dream come true, and the icing on the cake came when he was able to meet his hero, basketballer LeBron James. The sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University now wears his Zoom Soldier 8 comfortably around campus, and many others who once found difficulty in putting on a pair of shoes now have a solution to their problems.
In time to come, more silhouettes will incorporate Flyease into their designs, and should this spark off a new wave of research into innovative solutions for the handicapped, these people will be able to experience more normalcy in their lives, something they rightfully deserve.
Watch the inspiring journey of the Flyease technology here: