UO students work to improve equipment for disabled athletes
By Allan Brettman / The Oregonian
Last modified: May 07. 2012 5:55AM PST
PORTLAND — As a wheelchair rugby athlete, Will Groulx has grown accustomed to making do with a hodgepodge of equipment.
He fashioned his own gripping gloves from a pair designed for gardening. He keeps cool by spritzing himself with a water bottle during breaks in games. Other aspects of his chair have been modified by hand.
Groulx, paralyzed from the chest down in a 2001 motorcycle accident, plays for the Portland Pounders. The team won four matches to qualify for the championship last month at the United States Quad Rugby Association Championship, where it lost 51-46 to a team from Tuscon, Ariz.
Groulx, who was recently named to the USQRAC all-tournament team, was among four disabled athletes earlier this year who participated in a University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts product design class in Portland. Working with a current and former shoe designer for Nike, the students created prototype products intended to make competitive life easier for their temporary clients.
The class designed several products for Groulx, a 38-year-old Navy veteran.
“With all the different things,” Groulx said, “I was pretty amazed.”
Which is not to say he’ll be using the products any time soon. More on that later.
The other athletes included triathlete Gabriella Rosales, whose right arm never fully developed because of a birth defect; Joel Rosinbum, a former University of Portland rower injured in a 2007 skiing accident who is now a member of the USA ParaTriathlon National Team; and Brandon Robins, a professional boarding athlete whose right leg below the knee was amputated after a 2009 off-road motorcycle accident.
Instructors Wilson Smith and Bob Lucas emphasized to their 16 students that listening, as much as creating, was essential. Smith often repeated Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman’s quote that “if you have a body, you are an athlete.”
Smith and Lucas had been a team before teaching “Adaptive Products: Enabling Athletes with Disabilities,” as both started as designers at Nike in the mid-1980s.
Nike designer Matt Rhoades also assisted the class.
“Their enthusiasm,” student Ariana Budner said, “was propelling.”
Groulx, who has a Nike sponsorship agreement that supplies him with equipment and apparel, was impressed with the star treatment.
“It really seemed like the students listened to what I was saying,” said Groulx.
Budner sought to create a better seat for Groulx’s handcycle.
The handcycle is a sleek contraption, especially compared to his beat-up competition rugby chair. And handcycle racing is a growing passion for the former University of Tennessee volleyball player.
Another product looked promising: padded gripping gloves designed for optimal push across a playing floor to be used in combination with a dimpled disc wheel.
“The design was pretty amazing,” Groulx said.
But, “it was almost too sticky … it was kind of tearing the gloves up.”
Groulx, though, said he saw potential in a compression and cooling vest developed by student Ryan Fiorentino.
Fiorentino, for his part, said the class was one of his best ever.
“The whole process was less about my design,” he said, “and more about: ‘How can we be a team and bring both of our skills and understanding to the table and create a solution that is potentially a game changer?’”
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