Here’s to the super-humans

racersAn opinion piece in Newsweek this week boldly claims that the Olympics in Rio were just a prelude, and the Paralympics are the real sporting event of the summer of 2016.

Just like the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games show athletes who battle fatigue, their opponents, and the odds so that they can bring home medals for their countries, but the Newsweek piece says Paralympians have to do even more. They battle “against the challenges posed by ‘normality’ itself.”

The opinion piece was written by John Head, a senior lecturer in prosthetics and bio-mechanics at the University of Salford in England, so it comes as no surprise that he focuses on the efficiency of the new-fangled prostesis the athletes wear. He introduces us to Van Philips, an amputee engineer who examined the key components of running and decided to create a prosthesis that doesn’t look like a human foot. From the article:

His resultant “flex foot” or “blade” became synonymous with the Paralympic sprinters and runners who epitomize the modern Paralympians. Made from layers of laminated carbon fibre, and presented in that now familiar “C” shape, the “flex foot” could absorb large amounts of impact energy, at the beginning of the gait or running cycle, which would protect the prosthesis user from painful forces around their residual limbs.

It could also store and release this energy at the end of gait cycle during what is called the “push off” phase, literally “springing” the user forward along the track.

The result is a foot that redefines the possibilities of prosthetic running, and I must say, appreciated that the author went out of his way to remind sports fans that these fancy feet and other prosthetic devices are only as good as the people using them. He writes, “It is only in conjunction with a dedicated, elite, talented athlete that we can see the stunning performance outcomes that both enthrall and amaze.”

You don’t have long to wait to watch these stunning athletes –the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio start next week. Let the games begin!


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