#NIKELETTER: Student with cerebral palsy receives special shoes
Many high-school graduates experience obstacles that can keep them from going off to college. For some, it might be the cost. For others, it might be where they live. For Matthew Walzer, it was his shoelaces.
“I was born two months premature with cerebral palsy,” said Walzer, a freshman at Florida Gulf Coast University.
“Usually CP affects a lot of people … more severely than I am physically, or mentally. I was fortunate enough to be the way I am: mobile and active. One of the big challenges is I really only have the use of one good hand, my left hand. So one of the things I couldn’t do because of that was tying my shoes,” Walzer said.
Since Walzer’s freshman year of high school, the thought of writing a letter to Nike about his shoe problem stuck in the back of his mind. Yet, whenever he would begin to write, he would get halfway down the page before drawing a blank. He wanted the letter to be genuine, not just fan mail that was tossed to the side. One summer afternoon in 2012 proved to be the turning point. After a swim at the beach, five friends had to help Walzer put on his shoes just so they could go to grab something to eat.
“Everyone at the beach was staring, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is so embarrassing,’” Walzer said.
On Aug. 3, Walzer and his mother were looking online for a new pair of Nikes. Frustrated, he wanted to give up and figured that since he couldn’t put the shoes on himself, what was the point? His mother suggested that he go through with writing to his favorite shoe company. At midnight, Walzer pulled out his iPhone and typed away at what would become a letter to Nike CEO Mark Parker.
Starting with simply putting the letter on his blog Against All Odds, then sending the link to friends over Twitter with the hashtag #NIKELETTER, Walzer’s letter began getting more attention than he thought possible. Matt Halfhill, founder of the sneaker blog Nice Kicks, got the viral letter and reached out to Walzer through a YouTube video in which Halfhill encouraged viewers to tweet about the letter. People began to tweet their Twitter handle on an individual orange postcard that said #NIKELETTER on the front, and directed Parker to read Walzer’s letter online.
Nike was well aware of Walzer’s letter. On Aug. 10, Nike’s Public Relations coordinator Heidi Burgett contacted Walzer to talk about the letter.
By Oct. 28, right after Walzer’s birthday, the first pair of his custom Nike Hyperdunk basketball shoes came in; red, white and blue. They had a Velcro strap and a zipper that had “WALZER” printed on the tag. No shoe laces necessary.
Three weeks later, two pairs of Lebron James’ sneakers, also with a Velcro strap and a zipper, were sent to Walzer.
For the first time, Walzer could put his shoes on his feet all on his own,
“It was such an unbelievable feeling,” Walzer said.“It truly changed my life.”
Now a freshman at FGCU, Walzer rides down the walkways to class on his scooter. He is able to walk comfortably to his seat in the classroom with the help of his custom-made Nikes. The avid sneaker fan has kept in contact with his favorite brand, and receives a new pair of shoes whenever he needs one.