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Hyde: How a kid who can't tie his shoes changed everything

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 7/26/2015 Dave Hyde

Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky wears NIke's new Matthew Walzer-designed shoes at the WNBA All-Star game on July 25, 2015. Delle Donne's sister, Lizzie, has cerebral palsy and is blind and deaf. © AP Photo/Jessica Hill Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky wears NIke's new Matthew Walzer-designed shoes at the WNBA All-Star game on July 25, 2015. Delle Donne's sister, Lizzie, has cerebral palsy and is blind and deaf. He wanted to tie his own shoes. Sometimes the best ideas come wrapped in the simplest of sentences like that. Sometimes that's all it takes to change the world.

Sometimes they're formed by someone not weighed down by doubt, age or cynicism and lead him to dream so big he writes a letter on his iphone that's posted to Nike CEO Mark Parker on Instagram:

"My name is Matthew Walzer and I am going into my junior year at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I was born October 19, 1995, exactly two months premature. I weighed a mere two pounds, six ounces. Being born two months premature, my brain was not receiving enough oxygen. As a result, I have a brain injury that caused me to have Cerebral Palsy ..."

That was written three years ago. Walzer couldn't use his right hand. He couldn't put on his shoes by himself. He couldn't tie his shoes at all. He feared having shoes come untied in public and having to ask someone to tie it.

"I was hoping for some type of response," he says early Saturday afternoon. "It was something I knew I had to do. It was a 'Hail Mary' I had to throw. But the response I've got -- what has happened -- is beyond a dream come true."

Walzer, now 19, was on the phone from the WNBA All-Star Game in Connecticut, where he was invited by Elena Delle Donne. Her sister has cerebral palsy and needed help with shoes until Walzer and Nike partnered a new shoe with a solution.

"She's wearing the shoe in the (All-Star Game)," he said. "She brought me up just to watch her."

This is how it's been for Walzer since the shoe hit the market three weeks ago. Calls of thanks. Letters of appreciation. On Facebook, the sister of a lifelong friend who has cerebral palsy wrote, "Thanks to you his life has changed."

"When I read that, I literally started crying," Walzer said. "It kind of blows me away how this has helped so many people."

After that letter to Nike three years ago, he received a call from company officials. They sent him a prototype shoe to wear. They soon began collaborating over Skype on improvements. More ankle support. A longer strap. Different mid-foot options.

In lieu of laces, a zipper was put in the back of the heel. It connects with cables that tighten when zipped. So people could not only put on the shoe with little effort but zip it up without great manual dexterity.

One other requirement?

"I wanted it to look cool rather than the disabled shoes we always had to wear," he said.

The result was the LeBron Zoom Soldier Eight Flyease. It looks like the latest LeBron James model from Nike. Walzer met LeBron through Nike during the building of the shoe.

"It was three years of a great collaboration between Nike and I," he said. "I couldn't believe when I put on the first pair. I cried then, too."

How'd he feel?

"Independent," he said.

That was the simple goal. For years, he was conscious about how he walked so as not to undo his shoelace. When that happened and he had to ask someone he didn't know well to tie his shoe, he often got strange looks or a mocking question, "You can't tie your own shoe?"

In the past few weeks, he's received texts from some of those friends saying now they understand why he couldn't tie his shoe. He's also received calls from the media. National Public Radio. USA Today. ESPN.

All of which is an education because he's studying journalism and sports management at Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers.

"My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day," he wrote in that initial letter to Nike.

It was a simple thought with such a big change that he helped alter a universal verb. Shoes don't have to be tied anymore. They can be zipped.


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