In October 2016, Nike announced the Nike Ease Challenge. The company invited designers, engineers and innovators to make a new kind of footwear for athletes of all abilities.
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The challenge was an expansion of Nike FlyEase, an initiative inspired by Matthew Walzer, a high school student who has cerebral palsy. Walzer sent a letter to Nike in hopes they could produce an athletic shoe that he could put on by himself. He was going to college soon and could use his hands to tie his shoes.
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Nike’s mission statement states, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” The Nike Ease Challenge rests on that mission statement. Ideas submitted had to be aimed at helping athletes, including those with disabilities, put on and take off their shoes more easily.
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On April 10, three finalists visited Nike headquarters to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, including Walzer, Nike Chairman and CEO Mark Parker, nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, WNBA MVP and Olympic gold medalist Elena Delle Donne and Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medal winner.
Brett Drake, an engineer from Cheyenne, Wyoming, won the competition. Using a pair of 2016 Nike Hyperdunks as his prototype, he made a rear entry system with lightweight, but powerful magnets that allow the heel of the shoe to easily pull down and snap back together.
Photo via Nike.com
Photo via Nike.com
Drake told Nike, “The initial inspiration was from rear entry snowboard bindings. I questioned how I could create a system where a mid or high top shoe could be slipped on rather than pulled on. This is where the hinged heel came into play. By allowing the heel to hinge near the midsole and rotate back, the athlete can then slide their foot into the shoe.”
Drake won $50,000 and he will collaborate with Nike in the prototyping phase to begin testing his shoe with athletes of all abilities.
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