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Making It

Nike Invents A "Shoe" For Athletes With Prosthetic Limbs

The company's innovation lab worked with marathoner Sarah Reinertsen to fill a market that's ordinarily too small to attract serious R&D.

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When it comes to their gear, most athletes don’t have to resort to DIY. But self-customization was the reality for amputee athletes who needed soles for their prosthetic running blades, like competitive runner and marathoner Sarah Reinertsen. But since 2006, Nike has been working with Reinertsen and leading prosthetics maker Ossur to create a sole that interlocks with the company’s Flex-Run Foot. The latest product of that collaboration was announced today.

Called the Nike Sole, this lightweight composite outsole slides onto the Flex-Run and stays put, thanks to nine nylon tabs that grip on to the running blade. Before this innovation, "amputees had to buy a pair [of shoes] and use one if they were a single amputee," like Reinertsen, Nike Innovation Director Tobie Hatfield told us. The shoe’s sole would then be cut out and taped, glued or Velcroed on to the running blade, leaving little room for style or ease.

The Nike Sole provides a sleek option befitting the minimalist curve of Ossur’s carbon fiber running blade. Composed of four layers—including an outsole inspired by Nike cofounder Bill Bowerman’s iconic waffle traction design and a layer made of recycled Nike Air Bag units—the Nike Sole also features a rubber leash that hooks onto a tab for extra security, besting the old shoe sole of yore.

"With the new Nike Sole, an amputee can now just buy only one and immediately be able to slide it on their Flex Run Foot, attach the leash, and off they go on a run within 30 seconds," Hatfield says. "No more tape, no more glue, no more Velcro." The only customizing amputee athletes will have to do now is when they decide whether they want a sole with traction for on- or off-road jaunts.

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