Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty
Elena Delle Donne is getting into the shoe game for a very important reason.
The Washington Mystics star has teamed up with Nike to produce the world's most inclusive shoe, inspired by her older sister Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy and autism and is deaf and blind.
"Anytime we tried to put a shoe on Lizzie, it was almost like putting something really hard into a shoe because her foot just isn't mobile," Delle Donne tells PEOPLE. "We noticed that we needed the back of the shoe to kind of adjust and then also the upper part of the shoe to open up and allow her foot just to go right in."
Delle Donne says "it was crucial" for her to design a shoe that would be "not just for pro athletes and basketball players," but "something that would work for" Lizzie and her peers.
"Nike and myself set out to create literally the most inclusive shoe there is," she says. "And I really believe we did that through years of fit testing and collaborating."
Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty I
Both Lizzie and her sister served as fit testers on the shoe, to make sure the Nike Air Deldon offered support for every athlete. Lizzie, who Delle Donne says "has had a lot of mobility issues" is thrilled with how the final product came out.
"This shoe definitely works great for her. You can tell it's just comfortable because so many shoes just don't even work for her. So the ones we can get her in don't have nearly the technology and what's gone into these Nike shoes."
Nike will release six different color variations of the Air Deldon, each with a different story tied to important elements of Delle Donne's own life.
"I really wanted it to reflect all things in my life that I care about or have a close attachment to," she says. The first colorway they're releasing, Lyme, is a nod to her history with Lyme disease.
"This shoe is very much about the struggles that I've been through, trying to balance being a professional athlete while also having a chronic illness."
"And then this shoe that's coming out October 11 is the Be True shoe, which is celebrating myself being a lesbian and also trying to create a shoe that just supports people for being their unique selves," Delle Donne tells PEOPLE.
Delle Donne says she "didn't realize going into this" how much creative freedom Nike would give her throughout the production process.
"I'm so grateful that I did because it's truly...it's mine, and it feels so good to be able to tell these stories and then to know that people are going to have these shoes on. It's like, it's hard to even believe."
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Not only does the Air Deldon set a precedent for sports apparel to be more inclusive for athletes with disabilities, the weight of Delle Donne getting her own signature shoe as a WNBA player isn't lost on her.
"It's so rare for really any female athlete to have a signature shoe. So to be able to do this with Nike is so exciting. And also I hope it's a catalyst for more to come," says Delle Donne.