When the shoe fits

As all athletes know, it’s vital to have the right footwear. Balance, cushioning, support and comfort are all key features of a good shoe or trainer. Why should things be any different for athletes with a disability? DEBORAH LOUW takes a look.

One of the challenges facing people with a disability is the question of footwear. Although levels of mobility vary among people with a disability (well, among everyone in fact!), the likelihood is they will need a little “extra”.

Footwear designers have, until recently, tended to overlook the particular requirements of people with a disability. And yet, a design tweak or two can provide the additional features that can make the difference between easy use and frustration.

Sometimes the sportswear-design teams just need a little nudge from us – the people in the street. For example, American teenager Matthew Walzer, 21, who has cerebral palsy, posted an open letter to Nike on a social media site lamenting the fact that he could not get his shoes on. With flexibility in only one of his hands, it was impossible for him to tie his shoes without help. ‘He also needed shoes that gave good ankle support, so low slip-ons weren’t enough,’ reports US online sports site CNet.

Nike designer Tobie Hatfield, whose work with Paralympian athletes had already encouraged him to think about developing helpful and practical footwear for athletes with a disability, contacted Walzer, and soon the pair began collaborating on an easy-access basketball shoe.

Enter FLYEASE technology, an easy-entry footwear system designed by Hatfield. A few prototypes followed, working on the basis of a release system that has a wraparound zip that opens the back of the shoe near the heel, making it’s easier to slide the foot in and out – a clever yet simple design detail set to benefit people with a disability.

The Nike Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease shoe, the latest product in its LeBron James collection, was officially announced in the USA on July 13, 2015 and is now available in a limited edition via the Nike online store (nike.com). It offers stability and “the ultimate glove-like fit”. Its specs are being modified and improved, however, for even better performance.

Other trainer manufacturers are likely to follow suit – good news for all of us who want to get out there, no matter what our disability.

“If you have a body, you’re an athlete,” says Hatfield. “While varying levels of mobility make it difficult to provide a universal solution, we feel this is a significant development for anyone who has ever struggled with independently securing their foot.”

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