Monday, April 27, 2009

Lehigh Valley golf tournament raises money, spirits for those who've lost limbs

By Brian Callaway | Of The Morning Call
April 25, 2009

Cameron Clapp 23, of San Luis Obispo, CA uses one arm to hit with his iron from the fairway at the Annual Amputee Support Golf Outing at Wedgewood Golf Course in Coopersburg on Friday, April 24, 2009. Cameron is a triple amputee and has been competing nationally in swimming, running and golf events. (RICH SCHULTZ/SPECIAL TO TMC / April 25, 2009)

Cameron Clapp ambled toward the tee, took a moment to set up his stroke, then blasted the golf ball down the fairway.

''Nice shot, Cameron,'' the other members of his foursome cheered. ''Nice.''

''It's good to get out and be physically active,'' Clapp said a little bit later. ''This is fun. I'm just out here having a good time.''

With that he returned to his golf cart, using his left hand and the pincers where his right one used to be to put his putter in the bag, then the microprocessors in his prosthetic legs to work the vehicle's pedals.

The 23-year-old Californian with a young surfer's drawl and a veteran runner's determination has been a triple amputee for nearly eight years, having lost both legs and his right arm in a train accident.

Since then, he's taken up golf, participated in races and traveled the country speaking to, and on behalf of, his fellow amputees.

''I have obviously a ... disability to most people,'' said Clapp, who's acted in TV shows such as ''My Name is Earl'' and is a spokesman for a prosthetics company. ''But to me, I don't see myself as having a disability.''

The local amputee support group has dozens of members, several of whom act as peer counselors, visiting area hospitals and other places to meet with new amputees and help them adjust.

Kim Bartman, the Lehigh Valley Hospital nurse who runs the group, said many people who've lost a limb suffer as much emotionally as they do physically.

'' People think their life is over,'' she said. ''They think they can't do anything.''

The group also raises money to help amputees pay for prosthetic limbs. Even the most simple prosthetics, which lack joints for flexible movement, can cost several thousand dollars. More advanced prosthetics cost more than the average SUV -- Clapp said each prosthetic leg he wore Friday cost about $38,000.

Clapp said he's benefited from good insurance, so the prosthetics haven't bankrupted his family.

Bartman said some people aren't that lucky.

Many amputees struggle to get insurance companies to pay for prosthetics, she said, especially the more expensive ones that allow easier movement.

The money raised at Friday's tournament won't be enough to cover the cost of most prosthetics. Bartman said the group has used its reserves for things such as helping amputees cover the co-pays needed for services under many insurance plans.

The tournament has other benefits, too.

Interest in the annual golf outing has grown since its inception. So many people tried to register this year, Bartman said, that she had to turn away about 50 -- the 27-hole course only allows 200 to play comfortably. Dozens of the players were local amputees.

Ricky Kemp, a Bethlehem Township man who lost part of his left leg five years ago in a motorcycle accident, said seeing so many people come out to support local amputees was encouraging.

He also said it's crucial to know there's a support system out there for people who've lost a limb.

"When I woke up in the hospital and ... saw my leg was gone, I felt alone at the time to go through my ordeal," he said. "To have a support group to help you through it -- it's amazing."

Friday, April 24, 2009

11-year-old Alabama boy, whose legs were amputated at birth, runs, skateboards and competes in baseball

Posted by Kelli Hewett Taylor--Birmingham News April 23, 2009 6:00 AM

Hasaan Hawthorne's take on living as an amputee surprises a lot of people.
"I think it's funner having prosthetics than real legs because you get to do more stuff," said Hasaan, 11, a fifth-grader at Valley Intermediate School in Pelham.

He has shared his philosophy with a substitute teacher whose husband was getting prosthetic running legs, and a student whose grandfather was undergoing amputation.

"I like to inspire people and help people," said Hasaan (pronounced huh-SAHN). "I don't like to see people sad, I like to cheer people up. I'm just like other people, just with different legs."

Hasaan has been part of two championship youth baseball teams and an all-star team with able-bodied children. He excels in track and field for kids with disabilities.

Hasaan was born without shins, a condition called tibial hemimelia.

His parents, Demond and Felecia Hawthorne, reeled from the medical choices for their day-old son.

"We had never had such an experience, being first-time parents," Felecia said. "It was pretty hard."

The main options: Allow Hasaan's legs and feet to grow, knowing he would require a wheelchair, or amputate his feet and legs through the knees.

Amputation would let him sit at a school desk and walk with prosthetics.

At 4 months old, Hasaan had the surgery. As a youngster, he moved around using Tonka trucks and push cars.

Hasaan got his first prosthetic legs at 14 months, and it wasn't long before his athletic side began to emerge, particularly in baseball -- a shock to his football-loving father.

"I didn't even think about sports," Demond said. "He had a pair of walking legs, strictly for walking. Just walking in them is supposed to use the same energy we use to run."

By 4, Hasaan was running.

"At first it was hard, so I learned to skip and jump," Hasaan explained. "Sometimes when you jump off, the (prosthetic) feet turn."

At 5, Hasaan said he wanted to try out for baseball, first through the YMCA and then with Pelham Youth Baseball.

"I wanted him to prove he could play with them and not feel he wasn't good enough," Demond said. "But when he started playing, he was advanced for his age."

Hasaan could balance while batting and fielding, earning him spots playing first base and third base. He even helps his younger brother, Chase.

Hasaan's athleticism often breaks the walking legs, requiring weeks for repairs.

In 2007, Hasaan qualified for a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation for a set of curved running legs. The legs, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, increased his speed and improved his baseball skills.

"I like that you get to make a bunch of friends and you get to run," Hasaan said about playing for the Pelham Panthers. "I think able-bodied sports are more of a challenge. I just try to catch up with everyone else and impress my coach."

Unkind words

Some of the hardest moments for the Hawthornes are the stares and the pity.

Mother, father and son have all overheard adults and children making fun of Hasaan with names like Robokid or wild stories about train accidents taking his legs.

"We teach him that life is not fair and to have faith in God and trust in God," Demond said. "We don't want Hasaan to rely on us to take away the bad guys and make the bad stuff go away. We want him to live a proactive life on his own."

Hasaan is now contemplating football or wrestling.

The youngster loves a challenge, and his spirit is often a reminder for his parents and others who know him. Hasaan confidently plans to be the first above-the-knee double amputee to play college baseball, then play for the New York Yankees, like Derek Jeter. He expects to own a Corvette and retire from sports as an orthodontist.

"It's easy as you get older to set limitations, and he provides an example that maybe we shouldn't put these limits on ourselves," Demond said. "We try to instill in Hasaan as he grows that God has made him for a purpose, and God doesn't make mistakes. At his age, Hasaan has probably made more of an impact on people's lives than I will ever make."

click here for more great photos.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Paralympic athletes teach area amputees a better way to get around

by Cole Waterman | Special to The Bay City Times
Thursday April 23, 2009, 8:00 AM

Seven years ago, doctors amputated Dalton Roberts' left leg above the knee as a result of bone cancer. Since then, the 12-year-old Beaverton boy has walked with the help of a prosthetic limb. But walking isn't enough; Dalton wants to run and jump.

So Dalton spend Wednesday afternoon at Delta College with about 60 other amputees who attended Amputee Walking School.

Taught by Paralympic track and field gold medalists Dennis Oehler and Todd Schaffhauser, the participants learned new techniques to strengthen their lower muscles and get a better handle on controlling their prosthetic limbs.

Rebecca Craig | Times Photo
Paralympic track and field gold medalist Dennis Oehler demonstrates for 14-year-old Tyler Adams, right, how he can balance in a squat while wearing a prosthesis."Unfortunately, amputees don't get enough time in rehabilitation," Oehler said. "We needed to do something to develop on-going training."

The additional training was helping Dalton, said his father, Tom Roberts, who brought his son to the training session to "build strength and walk better and more efficiently."

Saginaw-based Michigan Orthopedic Services sponsored the event, which brought in participants from ages 12 to 72.

Oehler and Schaffhauser, both of Long Island, N.Y., have taught their class throughout the world and have instructed more than 10,000 lower extremity amputees.

Scott Baranek, a certified prosthetist with Michigan Orthopedic Services, spearheaded the event. A Bay City native lost his leg in a 1994 motorcycle accident, Baranek wants to bring resources to local amputees who may not have had enough physical therapy.

"It's a two- to three-year journey to get full recovery after a limb loss," Baranek said. "It's lucky if patients get four months of physical therapy."

Rebecca Craig | Times Photo
Tyler Adams, 14, lost his foot in a boating accident in August. He and his parents, Scott and Jolene Adams, and his 13-year-old brother, Joseph, turned out for the session.Once therapy stops, Baranek said there is a tendency for amputees to plateau, content to get by walking with a walker. He is hoping to "raise the level of awareness and expectations of patients and healthcare providers."

The most important issue is developing strong muscles so amputees can walk without a cane, or even run, Baranek said.

"Strength training is the key to using the proper muscle groups and ambulating properly," he said.

Kim Peake, referral development manager for Michigan Orthopedic Services, said the company tries to give patients ways to improve their abilities after the therapy ends.

"What we try to do is instead of making an artificial limb and saying 'see you later,' we give continual care," she said.

Mike Spitz, director of Delta's Physical Therapist Assistant program, said Baranek came to him, asking for Delta's help with Wednesday's event.

Spitz hopes Wednesday's event becomes a regular occurrence.

"We'd like to make this a monthly event, an actual program these people go through and each time they'd come out they'd learn and grow and progress," he said.

"Scott really recognizes what we're trying to accomplish with this," said Oehler, adding that he'd like to see the program become a monthly event. "Going monthly gives (amputees) opportunities to learn more and progress. It's good, exciting stuff."

Tyler Adams, 14, son of Scott and Jolene Adams of Sterling, had his left leg amputated below the knee on Aug. 5, following a boating accident. At Wednesday's class, he worked with his brother Joe, 12, to better hone his strength and balance.

"He's doing exceptionally well," said Jolene Adams. "He runs, plays second base in baseball, plays basketball, rides his bicycle and jumps on his pogo stick."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

No elbows, no knees, no problem: Amputee set for MMA

Light-heavyweight Steve Cantwell jokingly told me last week that he wouldn't mind fighting someone without arms.

Too bad he can't make the cut to 135 pounds.

Kyle Maynard — described as a "congenital amputee" — was born without elbows, hands, knees or feet, but with plenty of athletic ambition. He compiled a 35-16 record as a high school wrestler and won an ESPY in 2004 for "best athlete with a disability." USA TODAY profiled him in 2004, going so far as to label him "The Ultimate Fighter" in the days before the term became associated with Spike TV's reality show.

He has a book and a documentary. He opened his own gym in December.

He wants to try martial arts at 135 pounds, but his home state of Georgia denied him an MMA license in 2007. Now he's going to give it a shot in Alabama, which doesn't regulate the sport.

"You know, just do it in an unsanctioned state, that way I can get that first one under my belt and hopefully build a little bit more of a legitimate case that I would be able to, in fact, defend myself in a fight," Maynard told MMA Fanhouse.

The 23-year-old Maynard started training jiu-jitsu at Hardcore Gym in Athens, Ga., and currently works with former world champion Paul Creighton. Maynard has competed under the auspices of the North American Grappling Association:

His short limbs present an obvious disadvantage, but he has certain unique characteristics that could help: low center of gravity; an unusually powerful torso and upper body compared to anyone else in his weight class; and he always counts as a grounded opponent, so can't be struck be knees or kicks to the head. The video above also the unusual difficulties of pulling guard on him — if he's on top, he probably has an easier time than most grapplers in maintaining positional control.

(Posted by Sergio Non)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dual amputee, wounded in Iraq, gets special 'power knees'

Click here for VIDEO

WASHINGTON - It's an exciting new day for the more than 800 war veterans who've lost their limbs in combat. Thursday, the U.S. Army rolled out a new generation of the world's first battery-powered artificial knee to make walking a lot easier.

This is version two of the world's first and only battery-powered artificial leg, designed to restore dignity, mobility and independence to these soldiers who've lost the ability to walk while fighting for their country.

The new one's smaller, three pounds lighter and smarter; it learns while you walk.

Lt. Colonel Greg Gadson says it feels a lot more natural but walking with battery-power takes some getting used to.

An Iraq war veteran, Gadson said, "It's sort of like if you were driving a school bus and someone put you in a sports car. You know, you still know how to drive, but it's quite a different feeling."

He lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq two years ago, leaving this former West Point football player to re-learn how to get from point A to point B.

After just a few days, he can walk a mile. Balance is still a bit of a challenge. What's tough: coordinating what you feel with what you see while walking and getting used to being so far off the ground.

"I can already see myself doing things that I would normally not do, like maybe I might go shopping now, and browse," Gadson said.

Certified Prosthetist Michael Corcoran said, "For him, it's a long way off the ground, tough feeling, like falling off a table."

Gadson is the guinea pig for this new prosthesis that could be ready for amputees in a year.

"He's been a leader on the field, a leader in combat, now a leader in rehabilitation," Lt. Col. Paul Pasquina, M.D., of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said.

Leading the way to for America's wounded heroes, step by step.

(Copyright NBC Newschannel, All Rights Reserved)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Flight of heroes: Soldiers who are gliding back from war's horrors

Brave soldiers maimed on the battlefield are being restored to physical and mental fitness - by becoming glider pilots.

The MoD is providing the flying lessons to boost their morale by showing them they can be just as good as ablebodied exponents of the sport.

And the courses are so successful that many of the heroes now have the skyhigh aim of returning to serve their regiments in world trouble spots despite shattered limbs and even amputations.

Major Martin Colclough, who runs the Battle Back programme, said: "Gliding is an incredibly liberating activity and so is perfect for helping the lads recover.

"The aim of rehabilitation is to restore their ability to serve and, judging by the feedback I'm getting, this innovative approach is proving very worthwhile."

In our exclusive photos from Wiltshire's Army Gliding Club, Gunner Mark Stonelake is typical of the guys who are intent on overcoming their handicaps.

The 24-year-old lost his left leg when the vehicle he was driving was blown up in Afghanistan last December. But Mark, from Hemel Hempstead, Herts, is desperate to rejoin his comrades at 29 Commando - and firmly believes gliding will help him achieve his goal.

Despite having to learn the basics on a prosthetic leg, he said: "You get a real buzz from being so high with no engine to rely on. I'm so glad I've had this opportunity to learn a new skill.

"It breaks up the routine of rehab and has given me something completely different to concentrate on. So it's speeding up the recovery process."

Mark, who also shattered his jaw and cheekbones and lost three teeth in the horror blast, admitted: "It's not going to be easy but I'm now set on getting back to my regiment with the lads. .

"When I finally came to after the explosion, I was lying in a hospital in Birmingham. I had absolutely no idea why, or what I was doing there.

"I remember trying to find my boots - and then being told I'd lost my leg.

"But the support from everyone has been overwhelming ever since - and I can't wait to get involved again."

Lance Corporal Daniel Whittingham, 23, smashed almost every bone below the waist when he was also caught in an Afghanistan explosion in January.

But despite his broken pelvis, coccyx, tibia, fibula, both ankles and heels, he remains admirably upbeat.

Taking a break from his Alexander Shleicher K21 glider, he grinned: "I guess my Olympic sprinting hopes are over. But the gliding has shown me there's plenty of other stuff for me. It's brilliant as you can compete with able-bodied gliders."

Daniel, of Nottingham, who serves with 11 Regiment the Royal Logistics Corps and has had 10 operations, added: "It's great to get out of the ward.

It can get boring even though the nurses are great. So being up in the clouds and learning something new at the same time is a huge bonus. I'm really enjoying myself."

Major Allan Tribe, of the Army Gliding Association, said: "We have to adapt each of the planes to suit the body of each particular injured soldier. But once they have been fully trained, there's no reason why they can't take on anyone."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We sailed the Atlantic .. 13 men with 12 legs between us

By Paul McNamara, 12/04/2009

THEY'VE duelled with death, been blown up by bombs, and survived catastrophic injuries.

But now a life on the ocean BRAVE has inspired an incredible new purpose and passion in a remarkable bunch of maimed British hero soldiers.

Today eight of this courageous band of brothers take on the world-famous Cowes regatta. But as they prepared to battle the Solent, they told of the historic sea challenge that turned their lives around- the first-ever ALL-AMPUTEE sailing crew to race across the Atlantic.

Private Chris Herbert, whose left leg was blown off by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007, said: "I never thought we'd make it. There were only 12 legs between the 13 crew members!

"Looking around I thought, 'What are we going to do if someone needs to climb the mast?'

"I found out the next day-when I was ordered to climb it! But when asked I didn't think about it, I just DID it.

"And that's how all the race was. No one cared about not having both legs, or even any legs. We just got on with it."

That's the incredible spirit and fellowship created by remarkable new charity Toe In The Water, dedicated to rehabilitating our injured servicemen by getting them out on the waves.

The determined crew entered last November's Atlantic Race Challenge from the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa to Barbados. And not only did the lads go the whole 2,000-mile, 10-day distance, they came THIRD!

Chris's crewmate Lance Corporal Johnathan Lee, 26, never imagined he'd go on a sailing boat. In fact after losing his right leg driving into a Taliban minefield in November 2007, he never thought he'd do ANYTHING ever again.

But the rookies' transatlantic dash aboard the 65ft Spirit of Juno changed all that.

"It was one of the most exhausting things I've ever done," Johnathan told us. "But it gave me incredible freedom. I did the whole trip WITHOUT my prosthetic leg as I found it easier to manoeuvre around the boat without it.

"It didn't hold me back a bit. I still got stuck in. It's all about the teamwork."

Buddy Chris, from Barnsley, South Yorks, had never been on a boat either, until last year.

He laughed: "But I got bitten by the bug and I love it." He loves it so much he's now taking a degree course with the UK Sailing Association on the Isle of Wight, aiming to become an elite sea captain.

But it's heartbeaking to hear how Chris's new-found joy was born out of appalling tragedy. His Yorkshire Regiment Land Rover blew up in Basra in February 2007, crippling him and killing his best mate Luke Simpson, just 21.

As Chris lay injured in the baking sun for two hours he was so convinced his fate was sealed that he even got out the 'death letters' he'd prepared for his loved ones.

He was just 20 minutes away from bleeding to death when he was evacuated to medical help.

Watching him today-just two years on-pulling to release the boat's mainsail before leaping nimbly across deck to shift its direction, you'd never believe he now lives with such a cruel disability.

It's the same story of true grit with comrade Johnathan, from Newark, Notts.

When his vehicle was blasted in Afghanistan, it overturned and when he gathered his senses, Johnathan realised he couldn't feel his right leg.

"I kept calm, concentrated on staying alive, and waited to be rescued," he said. "I took out my phone, turned the video camera on, and said goodbye to my mum.

"I wasn't scared. You're only ever scared of the unknown-and I knew that I was going to die."

Johnathan was eventually saved by a daring rescue mission into the minefield.

But the doctors' prognosis was poor-the leg would never recover.

Johnathan recalled: "All I said to them was 'Give me three days to say goodbye to it, and then it's yours.' "

And as he climbed aboard the boat in Cowes this weekend it was obvious his injury has definitely not dampened his zest for life.

"Life's too short," said Johnathan. It's all about getting on with it and making the most of it. And coming down here to sail with these world-class sailors has proven that to me. It's an amazing experience."

Cowes crewmate Sergeant Major Andy Newell of the Parachute Regiment agreed.


Andy, 40, from Farnham, Surrey, lost the use of his right arm three years ago in Afghanistan when a round from an AK-47 assault rifle tore a horrifying four-inch hole in his bicep.

"I got so angry being in Headley Court military hospital away from the troops," he said.

"After being a Para for 21 years, I couldn't cope with not being part of a team. I got very depressed."

But, like the others, he found liberation at sea.

"My first day's sailing was amazing," said Andy.

"The people we were sailing with didn't care about our disabilities, they just wanted to race and win-and the feeling was immense.

"When we got off the water, no-one asked how my arm was, all they wanted to know was how the boat sailed and what the conditions were like.

"I came home a new man and my wife said, 'Who are you?'

"She just couldn't believe the transformation back to my old self in such a short time. And neither could I." Marine David Martin-shot in the leg in Afghanistan-is grateful to Toe In The Water, too, and admits it's a pleasure just to be back on board a boat that's NOT heading into battle.

"I'm used to the water but it's nice to be on it knowing that the only 'unfriendlies' out there are just RACING against you," said David from Ashford, Kent.

On Friday David and the rest of the determined crew were joined by double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson, OBE.

She took the helm for a while and told us: "It's a privilege to sail with these guys. They're amazing people, all so enthusiastic and wanting to race as well as they can.

"There are definitely some future Paralympians here."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Robo Legs

Watch CBS Videos Online

Josh Bleill demonstrates his state of the art robotic legs.

(CBS) When Americans are wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq, no expense is spared to save their lives. But once they're home, if they have suffered an amputation of their arm, they usually end up wearing an artificial limb that hasn't changed much since World War II.

In all the wonders of modern medicine, building a robotic arm with a fully functioning hand has not been remotely possible.

But as 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley reports, that is starting to change. One remarkable leap in technology is called the DEKA arm and it's just one of the breakthroughs in a $100 million Pentagon program called "Revolutionizing Prosthetics."


Fred Downs has been wearing the standard prosthetic arm since 1968, after he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam.

"It's a basic hook. And I can rotate the hook like this and lock it," Downs told Pelley, demonstrating the limited movement ability of his prosthetic arm. "In those days they didn't have a lot of sophistication about it. They fit you and say, 'This is your arm, this is your leg.' And it was the best technology in those days and you just had to make yourself learn how to use it and I did."

Today, Downs is the head of prosthetics for the Veterans Health Administration. He told Pelley the technology used for his arm was developed during the World War II era.

"There's a hook, something out of Peter Pan. And that's just unacceptable," Dr. Geoffrey Ling, an Army colonel and neurologist who's leading the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, told Pelley

Col. Ling is a physician with big dreams and little patience, especially when touring Walter Reed Army Medical Center and meeting the troops he's working for. "We have a saying in the military, 'Leave no one behind.' And we are very serious about that. And that doesn't mean just on the battlefield, but also back at home," he said.

Ling told Pelley they've made great strides in artificial legs, but a good arm has never been within their grasp. "If you look at your hand, it's an incredibly complex piece of machine. What nature provides us is extraordinary. The opposable thumb, the five finger independently moving, articulating fingers. It's fantastic what this does."

"And when you lose your hand you've lost something that makes you human," Pelley remarked.

"You're so right Scott. Because, think about what makes us separate from every other animal species. We have an opposable thumb. That is, in fact, what makes us human," Ling said.

Ling is determined to give that humanity back. His project is run out of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - the same group that oversaw the creation of night vision, stealth aircraft, and GPS.

Ling told Pelley it's a very large scale project. "It is very much like a Manhattan Project at that scope. It is over $100 million investment now. It involves well over 300 scientists, that is engineers, neuroscientists, psychologists."

One of the scientists Ling asked to join the team is Dean Kamen, a sort of rock star in the world of inventors. His creations include dozens of medical devices, and the Segway.

They are inventions which have made him a multimillionaire.

"When the folks from the Defense Department came to this office and said, 'Here's what we need,' what did they tell you?" Pelley asked.

"We want these kids to have something put back on them that will essentially allow one of these kids to pick up a raisin or a grape off a table, know the difference without looking at it. That is an extraordinary goal," Kamen explained.

"He basically said, 'You're crazy.' That’s what he told us," Ling remembered. "He said flat out, he and he himself, who's a crazy guy himself, I mean he is very innovative thinking. He's a brilliant man, totally brilliant man, but mad scientist."

Kamen told Pelley he thought the Pentagon and DARPA were unbelievably optimistic in their expectations and that he told them that.

"He said to us, he said, 'I can do my, you're crazy. But, we're willing to rise to this, rise to the challenge because it’s important,'" Ling remembered.

Kamen took 60 Minutes behind the scenes at DEKA, his company in New Hampshire, to show Pelley how inspiration becomes invention.

"Engineers design a part on a computer, he fires it up here on our network," Kamen explained.

Click here for more reading on this story!

Creating The Bionic Arm

Watch CBS Videos Online

Thanks to the biggest innovation in prosthetic arms since World War II it's now possible for amputees to pick up small, delicate objects they never thought they would master. Scott Pelley reports.

April 12, 2009 4:45 PM

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How my Legs Gave me Super Powers

In a recent robot roundup we mentioned an IEET essay on the ethics of designer prosthetics becoming a fashion statement. That article mentioned the example of Aimee Mullins, double-amputee and cyborg athlete. A reader pointed us to an interesting talk Aimee Mullins gave on the aesthetics of her prosthetics at the TED conference. She shows off a few of her legs including the life-like legs she uses for modeling, legs that give her an extra 6 inches of height, artistic legs that look like sculptures, polyurethane see-through legs and high-tech legs made of metal and carbon-fiber composites that give her extra speed in athletic competitions. Best line of the talk: Pamela Anderson has more prosthetics than I do and nobody calls her disabled.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Climber Still Seeks Larger Meaning in His Epic Escape

Aron Ralston has found celebrity on the adventure sports and motivational speaking circuits six years after cutting off his own hand to free himself from a boulder.

BOULDER, Colo. — He called it “my accident.”

Published: March 31, 2009

On Saturday, April 26, 2003, without telling anyone his plans, Aron Lee Ralston set out alone through Robbers Roost, a steep, treacherous, largely abandoned parcel of southeastern Utah backcountry last bent to human will by Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, who had found its forbidding terrain favorable to hiding from the law.

Five days later, after several unsuccessful attempts to dislodge an 800-pound boulder that was crushing his right hand, Ralston snapped first the radius and then the ulna of his forearm near the wrist, applied a makeshift tourniquet, sawed through the cartilage with a throwaway multitool, rappelled to the base of Blue John Canyon and hiked until he came upon a rescue helicopter.

“It was a blessing in a way,” Ralston, now 33, said of the experience. “It made me think about the way I was living.”

The story of the crucible in Blue John Canyon has resonated through countless discussions of fortitude, indomitability and the will to live. But for Ralston, who has found enduring celebrity on the adventure sports and motivational speaking circuits, it has produced a struggle to divine some transformative meaning.

“He’s more serious now, and by that I mean not somber but intense,” said Ralston’s younger sister, Sonja Ralston Elder, 28, a law student. “He does things with more focus, more purpose than before.”

Raised partly in a farmhouse in Ohio, Ralston moved around as a boy before enrolling at Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied mechanical engineering, French and piano. Among the East Coast intelligentsia, he said, he carried his Rocky Mountain home address as a badge of honor and a shield. He caught the ski bug, spent summers rafting the Arkansas River and set out to make his name as the first mountaineer to reach the summit of all 59 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks alone in the wintertime.

But the episode in Blue John Canyon brought him a different sort of fame.

To see video click here

To some, Ralston’s story was an inspiration. His 368-page account, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” rose to No. 3 on the New York Times best-seller list. Corporations paid him $15,000 to $37,000 for motivational speeches. Wilderness conservation groups deployed him to raise donations. Schools invited him to speak to children, who often asked to examine his prosthetic hand. Travelers recognized him at airports. Strangers sent him letters. A film version of his ordeal is in the works.

To others, though, his story was the cautionary tale of a heedless fool. By Ralston’s own written account, he had nearly drowned, disturbed a bear and stumbled into an avalanche on earlier adventures. Failure to leave word of his whereabouts in Utah, ignoring one of the most basic rules of hiking, drew sharp rebukes.

“Aron Ralston has a death wish,” one book reviewer concluded.

A month after his rescue, Ralston appeared before a gymnasium of students at his childhood middle school, where he was greeted with enthusiastic applause. But the eighth graders asked probing questions, according to a transcript of the session. Ralston, still wearing a sling at the time, was prompted to discuss his reasons for venturing out alone, his thoughts on death and his prospects for a movie deal, to which he responded, “I don’t think I can really talk about that.”

So went the early appearances for a public speaker whose presentation, as described in promotional materials from his handlers at the Harry Walker Agency, “redefines the understanding of sacrifice, goal-attaining and what is truly important in our lives.”

By owning up to his mistakes, Ralston has managed to deflate some criticism. But even as he goes about sharing his life lessons, he has returned to unaccompanied wilderness adventure. He has entered several long-distance endurance races. In 2005, with the aid of his prosthetic, he completed his effort to solo-climb the 14,000-foot peaks of Colorado.

Last year, Ralston signed on to advise the arctic explorer Eric Larsen in his preparation to ascend Mount Everest. He has not decided whether to join the expedition. On the side, he has been organizing an African safari and an 18-day rafting voyage through the Grand Canyon.

“Before the accident, he had quit his job as an engineer and moved to Aspen to be in the outdoors and do what he loves,” Elder, his sister, said. “It’s just that what happened to him has vindicated this choice about doing what you love and not being defined by other people’s expectations.”

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