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Nike innovator Tobie Hatfield puts heart and sole into his shoe designs

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Nike designer Tobie Hatfield
Former Wildcat pole vaulter Tobie Hatfield is Nike’s senior director for athlete innovation, designing shoes worn by Olympic gold medalists, Super Bowl champions and Grand Slam tennis tournament winners.

Photo by James Fitzgerald III

When Tobie Hatfield (’87) wrapped up an ACU track and field career that included multiple NCAA Division II team championships, he had dreams of coaching. But God, as Hatfield says, had other plans.

Hatfield may not be coaching now, but that hasn’t stopped him from helping support today’s athletes – literally. Hatfield works as Nike’s senior director for athlete innovation, designing shoes worn by Olympic gold medalists, Super Bowl champions and Grand Slam tennis tournament winners.

Since joining Nike in 1990, Hatfield and his team innovate the latest in shoe technology and collaborate with an impressive group of athletes that includes former NFL All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, tennis great Maria Sharapova and beach volleyball star Misty May-Treanor

Once a pole vaulter for the acclaimed ACU track and field team, which Texas Monthly named the state’s “Sports Dynasty of the Century” in 1999, Hatfield feels like he’s able to live vicariously through the athletes he works with now. He struck gold in his first individual collaboration with an athlete, sprinter Michael Johnson. The iconic golden track spikes developed by Hatfield helped carry Johnson to gold medals in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

But Hatfield’s work isn’t all about gold medals and famous athletes. He likes to remember the words of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

That tenet led him to projects like FlyEase, which he developed after a teenager with cerebral palsy wrote to Nike about struggling to tie his shoelaces. Hatfield developed a supportive shoe with an entry-and-closure system that opened in the back and featured a wraparound zipper, a design that was named a 2015 Time Invention of the Year. And the work didn’t stop there. The latest shoe in the portfolio, the Go FlyEase, which Hatfield consulted on, launched in February and allows for truly hands-free wear.

Hatfield sees biblical principles in the work that he does, particularly the projects that help people with disabilities. Ideals like loving your neighbor as yourself and equality for all. It’s also this care for others that Hatfield appreciates about ACU.

“I have fond memories of a caring community,” Hatfield said. “I loved the chapels. I loved getting to know the professors on a little bit more of a personal level. There was more intimacy than if I had gone to a bigger university.”

And he appreciates the mission ACU helped instill in him as a student, even if he didn’t realize it back then.

“The idea of sending students out to spread the Word, spread the Gospel into all other industries, even my industry, is fantastic,” Hatfield said. “And maybe I didn’t know that at the time as much, but I definitely feel that now.”

 
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