How Paralympic Wheelchairs and Prostheses Are Optimized for Speed and Performance

LinkedIn
Japan’s Yui Kitama (left) shoots during the first quarter of a women’s wheelchair basketball preliminary-round game against the U.K. at the Tokyo Paralympics at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza on August 26, 2021. Credit: Getty Images

By Sophie Bushwick, Scientific American

As audiences across the world tune in to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, they will see athletes using an impressive array of high-tech prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs and other assistive technology. These devices bear little resemblance to those for everyday use—and vary a great deal from sport to sport.

“We design sporting equipment to get the best possible performance based upon the constraints and needs of that sport,” explains Bryce Dyer, a sports technologist at Bournemouth University in England, who develops prostheses for athletes with disabilities.

For example, blade-style prostheses—which are springy to better store and release energy—have become well known in track-and-field events. But people with lower-limb amputations who compete in cycling events have to perform a different type of motion at much higher velocities, so their prosthetic limbs have different requirements. “One of the greatest forces that slow you down when you get above a certain speed is that of aerodynamic drag. And the more drag there is, the more effort you have to apply to try and mitigate for and overcome it,” Dyer explains. The legs of nondisabled people are “not particularly aerodynamic; they’re not designed for that task. But a cycling prosthesis, we can design it that way.” He has created such items with a flat middle section in place of the lower leg. “We can make it very, very thin,” Dyer says, “almost like an aircraft wing—razor-blade thickness—to slice through air [and] reduce or remove any turbulence from it.” For cycling limbs, this flat section is oriented so the thin edge faces forward, as opposed to blade prostheses for running, in which the broad side does so.

Wheelchairs for different sports also vary widely, although they share some similarities. Many are built from high-tech materials, such as carbon fiber, that make them both strong and lightweight. They often include rubber-coated wheel-turning grips that athletes grab with gloved hands to maximize friction. But beyond that, the designs diverge. In wheelchair fencing, for example, the wheels are locked into place while athletes strike and dodge from set positions. So fencing chairs are equipped with leg straps and sturdy handles that help the athlete stay solidly seated. And many have a lower than usual back to enable more upper-body movement.

The basic shape of a fencing chair still looks a lot like that of an everyday wheelchair. But this is not at all the case with racing chairs, which are built for high speeds. A third wheel in the front of such a device enables a low, elongated shape, which works optimally with the athlete’s position: kneeling and leaning forward. Spoked wheels are usually swapped out for smooth disks that generate less air turbulence, reducing the effort required to move at high speeds.

For sports that require more maneuverability, yet another design element is required. “Your tires or your wheels are actually slanted,” says retired American wheelchair basketball player Becca Murray, who has participated in three Paralympic Games and won gold at two of them. “And the dynamic of that is that it helps you be faster, and you’re able to turn quicker on the dime, whereas your everyday chair—it doesn’t let you turn as sharp.” Additional wheels on the back of the chair also help with these speedy turns and add stability. But such chairs do sometimes tip over, so designs must be sturdy. This is also why athletes wear straps or belts across their hips and legs. “If you were to fall over, you want to be able to just get right back up,” Murray says. “So you want your wheelchair to stay attached to you, almost like you’re one with the wheelchair.”

In addition to suiting a specific sport, a device must serve each athlete’s unique needs. “Most of the equipment is custom-made: it’s designed to get the most out of that individual athlete’s physical body,” says Ian Brittain, an associate professor of disability and Paralympic sport at Coventry University’s Research Center for Business in Society in England. For instance, prosthetic legs for track and field may or may not include mechanical knee joints. “Some runners, depending on the length of their limb, will have a knee joint added” if they have an above-the-knee amputation, Dyer says. “But there are some unique athletes, and a good example of that is the British athlete Richard Whitehead.” Whitehead has two above-the-knee amputations and has developed his own running style—one that does not require knee joints at all. “It looks almost like an egg whisk, where he almost brings his legs around in a whisking pattern, left- and right-hand side,” Dyer says. “That’s very unique to him.”

Among athletes who compete in wheelchairs, similar customization is necessary. For instance, increasing the height of the chair’s back and the slope of its seat, also called the “dump,” can help compensate for abdominal weakness. “I actually have a little dump in my chair because I don’t have all my core muscles to help me with that balance,” Murray explains. “It just means that my knees are higher than where I’m sitting, so it’s on an incline.” Players with injuries high on their spine may have less abdominal strength than Murray and require a dump even in their everyday chair. Others with amputations or knee injuries may have more abdominal strength and not need a dump at all.

The technology seen at the Paralympics can increase speed and mobility in sports—but it is unlikely to inspire visibly different designs for nonathletes. One reason is that the wheelchairs used in daily life are already optimized for other qualities, such as taking up as little space as possible. “You want your everyday chair to be the smallest it can be, because in everyday life, you have to get through little places and doorways and things like that,” Murray explains. “You like it to fit snug on your hips, and the wheels are straight up and down so that you can be as narrow as possible.” Many public spaces are simply not built to accommodate a variety of wheelchair designs.

Price is another consideration. “You have to bear in mind the commercial market for elite athletes is incredibly small, and in many cases, those athletes are sponsored,” Dyer says. “So it is important to have some degree of trickle down in the same way that IndyCar or Formula One technology does eventually trickle down to everyday family cars. But sometimes it’s quite subtle.” For example, some scarcely visible component of a prosthesis—such as the socket that attaches the limb to the wearer’s body—may improve.

Click here to read the full article on the Scientific American.

His Wheelchair Was Found Damaged Before The Race. Then He Set A Paralympic Record

LinkedIn
Peter Genyn of Team Belgium won gold in the Men's 100-meter T51 final on day 10 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

By , NPR

Two hours before the final of the men’s 100-meter T51 race in this summer’s Paralympic games, Peter Genyn arrived at the venue to find his wheelchair badly damaged.

“We had just arrived 45 minutes before the warmup, and we had three flat tires and a broken compensator. Everybody did everything they could to help, including the Dutch team,” the Belgian athlete told the Olympic Information Services after the race Friday.

Using duct tape to fix the frame, a team of staff from Team Belgium and Ottobock, a company that specializes in prosthetics and wheelchairs, rushed to fix the chair and replace the tires in time for Genyn to compete in the race.

Then the 44-year-old Genyn won gold, setting a new Paralympic record of 20.33 seconds.

“Thankfully I’m a maniac about my equipment, and I had lots of spares,” he said to the OIS. “I got my revenge.”

After his victory, Genyn told the Belgian TV network Sporza that he believed the damage to be an intentional act of “pure sabotage.”

“My chair is hanging together with duct tape. Someone must have been very scared,” he said, reportedly in tears. “It was terrible. I really thought it was over.”

The bronze medalist Roger Habsch, another Belgian athlete, also reported a flat tire that he believed to be intentional, according to Sporza. The Belgian Paralympic Committee has reportedly asked for an investigation.

Genyn is the world-record holder in the T51 classification, which covers track athletes with a variety of spinal cord disabilities with minimal upper body capabilities. Athletes in the T51 classification race in wheelchairs.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Six-time major marathon winner Daniel Romanchuk grabs first Paralympic medal

LinkedIn
Already a legend in the marathon community, Daniel Romanchuk won the first Paralympic medal of his career Sunday night with a gold medal on the track.

By NBC Sports.

Already a legend in the marathon community, Daniel Romanchuk won the first Paralympic medal of his career Sunday night with a gold medal on the track.

As the first and only U.S. man – elite or wheelchair – to win the World Marathon Majors series title, and a reigning world champion on the track, Romanchuk had already made a name for himself but had yet to medal at the Paralympic Games.

Romanchuk won the men’s 400m T54 in 45.72 seconds in Tokyo, edging Thailand’s Athiwat Paeng-Nuea by one hundredth of a second. China’s Dai Yunqiang took bronze in 46.20.

The final also included 11-time Paralympic medalist Saichon Konjen of Thailand, four-time world medalist Zhang Yong of China and two-time world medalist Richard Chiassaro, who finished fourth, fifth and seventh.

The Maryland native set an Americas record of 45.31 seconds to win the first heat earlier in the day, while Paeng-Nuea set a Paralympic record of 44.87 in his heat, lowering the previous one that had stood since 2008 by 0.2.

In the final, Romanchuk, 23, trailed the 18-year-old Paeng-Nuea as they rounded the final turn, but chased him down the straightaway and caught him at the line.

Romanchuk made his Paralympic debut five years ago in Rio, where he raced every distance from the 100m to the 5000m but was no better than 13th in his five events.

He started racing marathons in 2016, when he placed 16th in New York City. By 2018, Romanchuk was third in both Boston and London in the spring, then won Chicago and New York in the fall.

The following year, Romanchuk swept all four domestic major marathons and was second in Tokyo. He won the World Marathon Majors series title for 2018-19, joining Tatyana McFadden as the only Americans to do so.

Romanchuk is the first American to win the New York City men’s wheelchair title, and the youngest winner in his event at both Boston and New York.

After his dominant year in the marathon, Romanchuk went to Dubai for the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships and won the 800m T54 world title for his first major medal on the track.

Click here to read the full article on NBC Sports.

Paralympian Sophia Herzog has a mental health coach and psychologist ‘to get me prepared and healthy’

LinkedIn
Sophia Herzog smiling at the camera

By Cindy Augustine, Yahoo! Life

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Sophia Herzog may be a Paralympian bound for Tokyo and determined to win a medal in swimming, but in many ways, she’s a lot like her 20-something peers: focused on her future. The Colorado native, who was born with a form of dwarfism, has been steadily training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, prepping for the Tokyo games — but she knows she can’t swim forever.

When Herzog, 24, isn’t training or obsessing over her dog, Odie, she’s been thinking about what lies ahead after swimming — and choosing to make her education a priority. As a graduate from DeVry University, an official education provider of Team USA, Herzog was able to get her degree on her own terms (mostly virtual), and showed off her ability to juggle her athletic training and career training.

Herzog will be competing in freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly heats as the Paralympic Games get underway on Tuesday. Before taking off for Tokyo, the athlete caught up with Yahoo Life and shared how she stays focused and mentally prepared.

How do you approach taking care of your mental health?

We saw how much pressure athletes are under from the [Tokyo] Olympics, and I think it’s really important. I have a mental health coach and a psychologist that I work with almost weekly to get me prepared and healthy, just like my gym coach and swim coach. It’s nice to shed a light on the pressure — Olympic superhero athletes are just like every other human.

Aside from being in the pool, what else brings you joy?

We adopted a dog last June, and he’s been [helpful] in disconnecting from swimming. Getting outside and watching him be joyous over the littlest things has been a huge help for me. He’s now my child [laughs], Odie. I’m only 24 years old now and this is what I’ve done professionally for 12 years. I haven’t really experienced life outside of swimming and I’m looking forward to finding what brings me joy — besides my dog.

Click here to read the full article Yahoo! Life.

Simone Biles Prioritizes Her Mental Health By Withdrawing From Team USA’s Final Competition In The Tokyo Olympics

LinkedIn
Simone Biles at the olympic games posing with her arms in the air in front of a balance beam

By Marsha B., Yahoo! Lifestyle

Over the years, people with high profile occupations like athletes, musicians, and actors, have compromised their mental health at the expense of their craft. The idea that you have to power through filming a movie, performing at a concert, or competing in a game because people are depending on you, often causes you to compromise the time needed to rebuild your mental, physical and emotional stamina.

When Naomi Osaka first told the world that she wouldn’t participate in the 2021 French Open, she was met with both praise and mockery. We rarely hear of athletes prioritizing their mental health, but this generation has made it clear that no competition is worth compromising their mental and emotional well being.

Simone Biles is the latest athlete to throw in the towel and withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics. In a tweet from the USA Gymnastics, they gave Biles’ official statement.

“Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”

Although her official statement says she’s withdrawing for medical issues, others are saying it is more about preserving her emotional well-being. In another statement, Biles said that physically she feels well but emotionally things aren’t as steady.

“Physically, I feel good, I’m in shape. Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and moment. Coming here to the Olympics and being the head star isn’t an easy feat, so we’re just trying to take it one day at a time and we’ll see.”

In another tweet, an NBC commentator reported that according to a Team USA coach, Biles’ exit was less about an injury and more about an internal struggle she’s having.

Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! Lifestyle.

Xbox is combating exclusion with its accessibility drive, and others should follow

LinkedIn
A custom Xbox Adaptive Controller built by Oliver Koerber for accessibility

By JEZ CORDEN, Windows Central

Microsoft has invested more than ever in its gaming business lately, with its purchase of ZeniMax/Bethesda, a huge staff increase, exclusive content for Xbox Game Pass, and much more. There’s another area of investment in the Xbox division that is producing results of an entirely different nature, though: improving people’s lives.

Microsoft’s accessibility drive hit the spotlight with the advent of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which allows gamers with disabilities to create custom solutions to fit their specific needs. Really, though, there’s so much more to what Microsoft is doing in the space, and it goes all the way back to the Xbox 360, when Microsoft brought screen readers like Windows’ Narrator, and later features like Xbox Copilot on Xbox One.

It doesn’t really need explaining — Microsoft’s leadership in this space is changing lives for the better, and other companies should sit up and take notice.

I previously wrote about how the Xbox Adaptive Controller helped my friend Oliver, who works around osteogenesis imperfecta to maintain an active gaming lifestyle. Of course, there’s no simple catch-all solution for solving accessibility needs — as versatile as the Xbox Adaptive Controller is by itself, it requires a range of tools and features for a platform to be truly accessible, and there’s still work to be done.

I was inspired to take another look at accessibility recently by this post on reddit, from u/duz_machines. He describes Xbox’s Copilot feature, which allows you to separate controller features between two different gamepads in a single game. His sister has cerebral palsy, with impaired motor skills. As a result of Copilot, u/duz_machines’ sister has enjoyed an improved quality of life, able to experience games that were previously completely inaccessible.

For those unfamiliar with copilot mode, basically all it does is allow two controllers to input as one controller. This enables me to take a lot of the burden from her, while allowing her to control what she can control. She’s been able to play games previously unfathomable for years because of this one, small, almost hidden feature. What pushed me over the edge to actually write this was Resident Evil Village. It is now one of her favorite games of all time; she can’t stop talking about it, and the only way she could’ve enjoyed it was Xbox. Nintendo and Sony don’t offer a copilot mode equivalent.

Sony has begun improving its accessibility features gradually, adding narrator features and other things, but is still a fair ways behind the curve. Nintendo is arguably the worst, for multiple reasons. Nintendo’s IP is Disney-like in their appeal to younger audiences, and there’s nothing worse to me than imagining how Nintendo makes youngsters with disabilities near completely excluded, owing to its general apathy towards these sorts of features.

Click here to read the full article on Windows Central.

MEET THE U.S. PARALYMPIC WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD TEAM FOR TOKYO

LinkedIn
paralympic athlete Tatyana McFadden poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot on Nov. 19, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.

By Stuart Lieberman, Team USA

Historically, Team USA has impressed across all classifications in track and field at the Paralympic Games, and this year in Tokyo it is expected to be no different. U.S. Paralympics Track and Field announced on Thursday the 26 women who will represent Team USA this summer, following their top performances at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in Minneapolis.

The roster will be headlined by five Paralympic champions — Breanna Clark, Cheri Madsen, Tatyana McFadden, Amanda McGrory and Deja Young — in addition to rising star sprinters Femita Ayanbeku, Brittni Mason and Alexa Halko.

McFadden is a 17-time Paralympic medalist and the winner of 22 World Marathon Majors, aiming to compete in five wheelchair racing events in Tokyo. Her story from a Russian orphanage to Paralympic prodigy has been told time and time again, as she has been competing at the Games since she made her debut at 15 in 2004.

“I have a really busy full schedule ahead, so I’m going to take it event by event,” McFadden said. “I really hope with the increased broadcast coverage and media attention people will be tuning in to watch the athletes in Tokyo. It’s really great preparation in the lead-up to L.A. hosting the Paralympic Games in 2028, too, so people can get to know the Paralympic athletes.”

McFadden will be joined by two fellow veteran athletes at the start line in the T54 class in eight-time Paralympic medalist Madsen and seven-time Paralympic medalist McGrory. Washington state natives Susannah Scaroni, now a three-time Paralympian after winning the 1,500 and 5,000 at trials, and up-and-coming 18-year-old Hannah Dederick, who beat Madsen by one-hundredth of a second in the 100 at trials, will also be in Tokyo to challenge her. McFadden, Scaroni and McGrory are all products of the University of Illinois wheelchair racing program, which Dederick will be entering in the fall after she competes in Tokyo.

Paralympic champion Young and world-record holder Mason both cracked the squad and are expected to produce a fierce rivalry in the T47 sprints. Young won both the 100 and 200 at the last Paralympic Games in Rio, but Mason, a quick riser in the sport, took both event titles at trials.

“Deja and I always push each other to the finish line,” Mason said. “It’s amazing to see that we are now getting that same level playing field that the Olympics are getting and I’m really glad I’m a part of this growth leading into Tokyo.”

Team USA will be stacked in the T64 sprints, starting with Boston’s Ayanbeku who at trials broke four-time Paralympian April Holmes’ 15-year-old American record, clocking 12.84, only two-tenths shy of the world record. Then there’s Beatriz Hatz and Sydney Barta who will both be making their Paralympic debuts. Hatz, the 2018 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field High School Female Athlete of the Year has two junior world titles to her name and won the 200 in Minneapolis. Barta was a two-time gold medalist at the 2019 World Para Athletics Junior Championships.

Los Angeles native Clark was the first U.S. woman with an intellectual disability to win a Paralympic medal when she handily took gold in the 400 in Rio, and Halko won three Paralympic medals there when she was the youngest member of the team at 16.

Click here to read the full article on Team USA.

For handcyclist Oz Sanchez, Paralympic success is a ‘testament to the person I’ve become’

LinkedIn
Oz Sanchez on his handcycle getting ready for the Paralympic games

By George Ramsay, CNN

Throughout his life, cycling has been a form of solace for Oz Sanchez. From the age of 12 or 13, he remembers being out on a bike even in the small hours. “I would leave the house sometimes at two or three in the morning for whatever frustrations I was dealing with and just ride under the moonlight in the local hills and mountains,” Sanchez tells CNN Sport. That may have been more than 30 years ago, and the bike he rides today may be different to the mountain bike he rode as a kid, but the allure of the sport remains the same.

These days, cycling is also his career. One of the top handcyclists in the world, Sanchez is a six-time medalist across three Paralympic Games and also has multiple world championship titles. It was in the years following a spinal cord injury, sustained during a motorcycle accident in 2001, that Sanchez discovered handcycling; the impact the sport had on his life was immediate. “When I first started riding, literally just going around the block was a feat in and of itself,” he says. “But it made me feel so alive because of the adrenaline and the blood pumping and just the feel-good chemicals of working out. “It became addictive, but it was all still mostly just the idea of getting out of the house and releasing my frustrations with my broken back and the accident.”

‘The journey, not the destination’

Having joined the US Marine Corps in 1996, Sanchez was in the process of transferring to the Navy as a Navy SEAL at the time of the accident.

“We’re talking about a transition from special operations, kicking doors and hostage rescue type mentalities of military operations to now: you broke your back, you did some permanent damage, you’re never going to walk again,” says Sanchez.

“I mean, the idea of me being competitive at any level at that point wasn’t on my mind at all. It was literally just so I can get out of the house and keep me from going insane.”
But over the years, Sanchez gradually transitioned into racing and was introduced to the US Paralympic team ahead of Beijing 2008.

There, he won gold in the time trial and bronze in the road race. Two Games and four more medals later, he’s now preparing to compete at the Tokyo Paralympics, noting that the way he’s viewed his success has changed over the years.

“I felt so utterly broken and worthless because of my interpretation and perception of my being an individual with a disability who can’t walk, those medals meant I was still a successful person and therefore I was worthy because of those medals,” says Sanchez, reflecting on how he felt after his first Paralympics.
“But now, I no longer contend with that depression and those ways of thinking. My body might be broken per se, but I am not broken. And so now, the medals are more of a testament to the person I’ve become.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

Lumen

Lumen

Verizon

Verizon

Leidos

Upcoming Events

  1. 2021 ERG & Council Conference
    September 15, 2021 - September 17, 2021
  2. The Arc’s 2021 National Convention
    September 27, 2021 - September 29, 2021
  3. CSUN Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. 2021 ERG & Council Conference
    September 15, 2021 - September 17, 2021
  2. The Arc’s 2021 National Convention
    September 27, 2021 - September 29, 2021
  3. CSUN Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022