For most of us, the thought of putting on shoes is second nature. There is no anxiety or permission needed. We simply grab a pair, slip our feet in, tie the laces and go on our way. As simple and as common as that sounds, that is not the case for everyone.
In 2012, a 16-year-old named Matthew Walzer, who was born with cerebral palsy, wrote what became known as the #NikeLetter. It asked CEO Mark Parker if Nike could create a show that he could put on and tie himself:
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.
The letter went viral. Parker reached out to designer Tobie Hatfield to create a shoe not just for Matthew but anyone that struggles with putting on and tying their shoes.
In the spirit of the mission statement set forth by co-founder Bill Bowerman -- "If you have a body, you are an athlete" -- the company has introduced the Nike LeBron 8 Flyease. The updated version of the popular basketball sneaker features a wrap-around zipper system at the heel that assist people without the full use of their hands slide into their shoes instead of tying them.
Designed by Hatfield, the system was already in development for Jeff Johnson, the very first Nike employee who suffered a stroke which limited his mobility on his right side, when Walzer sent his letter. Walzer says he never expected to receive a response from Nike, let alone Parker.
"I was honestly expecting a customer service response saying, 'Thank you for your inquiry, but at the time the shoes you want aren't available,'" Walzer tells ThePostGame.
Soon after the letter went viral, Walzer and Hatfield started the process of creating something unique for those who suffered similar issues. Early prototypes focused more on keeping the shoe locked down, but after a few Skype sessions, Hatfield learned that the challenges also extended to putting on the shoe as well.
Hatfield says the process for designing the Flyease was identical to the ones used with athletes during his 25 years at Nike. "You just have to get in the game," he says. "It's not going to be perfect, but we will learn a lot from it and continue to make improvements."
Fast-forward three years and Nike is prepared to bring the first official product to market. Keeping Walzer's love for LeBron James and sneakers in mind, the first shoe to release with the technology is the Nike LeBron Soldier 8. Walzer received his official pair of the shoes a few weeks back and -- met LeBron.
"Matthew inspired us at Nike to be able to bring something special that will not only be for himself but also for the masses," LeBron says in a Nike release. "The shoe and the inspiration he gave us is going to go way beyond Nike, Matthew and myself. I am very honored and blessed that my shoe is part of the whole process. This is an unbelievable story, and Nike has done a great job of being able to create something that's so incredible and will last a lifetime."
Although it created the Flyease for Walzer, Nike know it can serve a broader audience. The system will allow thousands of individuals that face challenges putting on their shoes to do something that may have thought would never happen.
Remember Walzer's concern about college? He is now attending Florida Gulf Coast University, and as any college student will tell you, putting on and tying your shoes is probably the last thing you want to worry about. In most cases, you don't even have to think about it.
Nike is sending the Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease to two U.S. basketball teams participating in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles (July 25 to August 2).
The LeBron Soldier 8 Flyease will be available July 16 in limited quantities on Nike.com.