My son is 3.5 years old and has cerebral palsy. Most of you who follow me on Twitter know that I'm pretty open and honest about the experience of being a dad to a child with special needs. It's really no different than being a dad to any kid...in my mind every child has some special needs. My 5 year old neurotypical son tells jokes in awkward situations. My 5 month old daughter refuses to go to sleep unless her face is buried into my arm. Things like that.
But back to the point. One of the challenges we've had is finding decent shoes to go over my son's orthotics. I'm not a sneakerhead by any stroke of the imagination, but I do like cool shoes and conversely (and probably vainly) I like for my kids to have nice shoes too. Having orthotics means that most shoes don't really work for us. We've tried darn near every variety of shoe and had found few options.
One day in a moment of frustration, I tweeted this about the Nike Store. I wasn't expecting anything out of it...I just needed to vent because I really thought that these shoes would work for my son and i was kind of excited about both of my kids having matching shoes. But alas they just didn't work.
What happened next is a testament to the Aggie Network. Several folks looked at options for other shoes and I was truly overwhelmed by the response. Shortly after that I got a DM from @cuppycup asking if me if I had ever reached out to someone at Adidas or Nike to work on this issue. I told him that I'd tried but never really gotten much traction. Shortly thereafter, cuppy went through the Aggie Network "find an Aggie" tool to see if there was a former student at Nike who might be able to help. He found someone and sent this note
Well it turned out that Brian wasn't the one who could help us out, but he referred cuppy over to Doug, a designer in the Young Athletes category, and Luhut Siagian, a product development specialist in the Young Athletes Category. That was on May 22 of 2015.
Doug and Luhut asked me about our needs and I expressed my frustrations about not being able to find wide sizes in kids shoes to easily go on over orthotics. We went back and forth for a while...they had me take a tracing and later a molding of my son's shoes in his orthotics and used that to figure out their plan. Nike had already been working on a product called FlyEase...inspired by a young man with cerebral palsy who was having difficulty tying his shoes. The FlyEase model basically included an zipper instead of regular laces. Doug and Luhut indicated that they'd be interested in putting together a jogging version for kids.
Had this entire thing stopped there I would have been perfectly satisfied. I just really wanted to know that someone cared. I wanted to know that someone would listen and maybe take my concerns into consideration. I'm on a lot of Facebook boards for families of children with special needs and I knew that I wasn't the only one to be dealing with this.
But it didn't stop there. After some email correspondence, in February of 2015 we received a package from Nike with the very first prototypes of the Nike Flex Run 2016 FlyEase...basically everything that we could hope for in a shoe. Luhut and Doug asked me to take YouTube videos of us putting the shoe on my son to get some feedback on how they could improve. We sent them videos, and they made some tweaks, and sent us new shoes to try. The second pair of shoes were perfect. I damn near cried when I zipped them up over my son's orthotics because hey...they worked. Both Doug and Luhut were incredible to work with and really listed to what I was saying in an effort to produce a quality product.
Sidenote...one of the difficult parts of having a child with special needs is the lack of predictability. Doesn't mean that bad things are going to happen, but life is really unpredictable at times. So you try and hold onto things that you know you can predict, and as silly as it sounds--buying shoes was one for me.
We finally had something predictable. We finally had something that would work. So we went from the original ill fitting shoe to this:
Shoes that fit. Shoes that fit over his orthotics. Cool looking shoes that fit over his orthotics.
And as of last week, these shoes are being mass produced for the public. They're available here. So we know where to go to get cool shoes that can fit over his orthotics. Like I said earlier....we have a tiny bit of predictability.
I'm sure Nike had something in the works prior to cuppy sending that note---or maybe they didn't. But the fact of the matter is that I was kind of at my wits' end, and cuppy's kindness combined with the Aggie Network resulted in something really, really nice happening for my family. I can't tell you how grateful I am. In the grand scheme of things shoes aren't a big deal...but what these shoes represent to me is a big deal.
The Aggie Network has been a blessing for us over the past few months. My son had spinal surgery about a month ago and without me even asking for it Aggie Twitter got together and sent us meals every night we were there. Every night, thanks to @CharlesF11's efforts we got something from folks like @ThomasCampbell, @CJohnChavis, @JMarc_62, @CenTexAg, or @spadilly. Just out of the blue. Not to mention the basket of snacks from @TelcoAg. Every time I went to thank them, I heard the same thing "don't thank us, this is just what Aggies do for each other".
At the end of the day, all I want is for my kids to know that I tried hard for them. That I did everything I possibly could to make their life easier. For my middle son the same applies...I'd love to spend a day in his brain just seeing the world through his eyes, but I can't. The only thing I can do is try as hard as I possibly can to do right by him. I guess that's really all any parent can do. I tried by myself with the whole shoe thing, but I couldn't get it done...but the Aggie Network was there to help out. The Aggie Network, in this case, helped me to be the best dad I possibly can be...and I'll be forever grateful.
Thanks and Gig'Em!