Special needs

Three years later, this viral campaign gets a happy ending

"By leveraging social media, Matthew Walzer has made a difference that will increase the independence of so many people in the special needs community."

Three years ago, I wrote an open letter of thanks to Matthew Walzer. The plucky then-16-year-old started the #NikeLetter campaign in which he asked the brand to design shoes that were easy to put on and take off, yet still looked cool. Like my four-year-old daughter Syona, Matthew has cerebral palsy. He can move around independently, but tying laces can be tricky. Cerebral palsy impacts both gross motor skills (like walking, standing and speech) and fine motor skills (which we use for activities like writing, typing and, yes, tying laces).

The open letter to Matthew was my first written response to something that went viral. I remember feeling so proud of him, despite the fact I didn’t know him personally. I was grateful he spoke up and tried to make a difference—both for his own benefit and for that of so many others. In retrospect, he was the first self-advocate I’d encountered, even though I didn’t really know what that term meant back then.

After my letter was published here on Today’s Parent, Matthew and I connected through Twitter. Every once in a while, I’d catch myself wondering if Matthew ever got his shoes from Nike. As the years went by, and I covered more stories, topics and items in the special-needs community that had gone “viral”, my thoughts gradually drifted back less frequently.

When we have access to so much information at our fingertips, following up on the people at the centre of much-buzzed-about news stories can fall by the wayside. While we get to experience their stories and briefly get wrapped up in them, it’s hard to keep track of the outcome. We tend to just move on to the next big news item.

But this past Monday, I received a tweet from Matthew informing me his Nike shoes had arrived. I smiled from ear to ear. He’d decided to follow up with me on a viral campaign he initiated three years ago. He did it! He made a difference. The Nike FLYEASE is being touted as an easy-entry shoe to help athletes of all ages and abilities perform better.

Watching the video on how the story played out brought tears to my eyes. By making a simple request and leveraging social media, Matthew has made a difference that will increase the independence of so many people. In my original post about Matthew, I wrote that he was a role model for simply asking for what he needed. Now I will get a chance to tell Syona he’s a role model because he also made a difference that will change people’s lives. I hope one day Syona can do the same for someone.

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary preschooler with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.