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Determination, technology help amputee athlete

Mead sitting

August 19, 1996
Web posted at: 4:15 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Ann Kellan

(CNN) -- Al Mead, a past Paralympic medalist, didn't make the cut for this year's Games in Atlanta. But he's living proof of how determination and technology are helping amputees compete on the athletic field and in everyday life.

Mead lost his left leg at age 9 in a fall that cut off blood circulation. Now, at 37, he rises with the sun to work out before going to his office job. He also gives inspirational speeches, explaining how he proved to himself and skeptical neighborhood buddies one day that he could still play football and run. (250K AIFF or WAV sound)

Mead as a child

Al ran for a touchdown that day and hasn't stopped running since. He broke world records in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races during Paralympic trials. Competing in the long jump, he won a gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Games, then took silver in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics.

State-of-the-art legs

Even a "pretty darn heavy" wooden leg that rubbed blisters on his stump did not stop him. Now, the wooden leg is gone, replaced by two state-of-the-art prostheses -- one for everyday use, the other for sprinting.

Mead running

The socket that fits the leg to his stump is custom-made. The inside liner is flexible and the padding over the stump is a breathable fabric that prevents painful rubbing.

"Praise God. Technology increased in such a way that I don't have to worry about that anymore," Mead says.

Now, his biggest worry is the competition. Improved technology means the hop-skip running method once used by amputees is a thing of the past. They now run leg-over-leg, forcing Mead to change his technique. (470K QuickTime movie)

Digital feedback

computer analysis of Mead running

But he has help. At Georgia Tech's biomechanics lab, light reflectors are taped to pivotal points on Mead's arms and legs. Videotaped as he runs, Mead's movements -- as shown by the reflectors -- are converted into computer animation that looks like a stick-figure cartoon.

Analysis shows that Mead flexes his prosthetic leg more than his other leg, but a slight adjustment can change the angle and the flexibility of the artificial joint. After the adjustment, researchers notice a smoother run.

Mead, who's married and has two daughters, hopes his efforts will inspire others -- whatever the odds.

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