Hi-tech prosthetics aid Paralympic dreams
August 21, 1996
Web posted at: 10: 40 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Ann Kellan
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Technology is playing an important role in
the 1996 Paralympic Games, where high-tech prosthetics have
given some wheelchair athletes a boost to world-class status.
In the 1968 games, events such as the shot-put and discus
throw were performed only from a wheelchair, and running was
unheard of. But now the stiff and heavy wooden legs have been
replaced by models with flexible feet that put spring in the
"Actually, the old legs ... you used to be able to hold them
and drop them and they would fall right over," explains
Paralympic athlete Karen Lewis. But her own foot, she says,
would "bounce back up."
The new feet and ankles come in all shapes and sizes. The
frames, made of carbon fiber graphite, bend and flex. Bent,
the frames store energy; extended, they release it.
And like shoes, there are different feet for different
activities -- some for walking, others just for sprinting.
The sprint model is a relatively simple construction. It's
designed, inventor Van Phillips says, for moving the body as
quickly as you can in a straight line. (374K QuickTime movie)
For jumping, the "vertical shock" model -- with telescoping
tubes -- provides the bounce.
(357K QuickTime movie)
And for above-the-knee amputees, hydraulic cylinders can be
adjusted to control the knee action. Prosthetist Larry Rice
says the frame is made of a combination of titanium and
aircraft aluminum, giving it the strength to endure a
Another boost are the sockets that fit the artificial leg to
the stump. Modern sockets are lightweight, and fit and feel
like a second skin.
"I think the ability to train over a period of time without
the suffering breakdown and complications ... is what's
making a big difference," athlete Kurt Collier says.
Athletes who were once told they would never walk again now
race down the track toward Paralympic -- and world --
records. The athletes say it's no longer the prosthetic that
holds them back -- it's their able-bodied legs, hips, ankles
and back that limit what they can do.
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