Advancing through Prosthetics

October 17th, 2013 | By Lindsey Ebert No Comments

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By Lindsey Ebert,
editorial intern for Athens MOVE

For many of us, stepping outside for a game of pick-up basketball or going on a run is something we don’t think twice about. On a breezy fall day you may just call a few friends and walk out the front door to the nearest court, playing field, or even your back yard.

Now imagine a day where it’s not quite that easy. Instead of the simple pleasure in lacing up a pair of crisp shoe laces, you now have to attach a prosthetic leg that has granted you the ability to run again.

This is the everyday reality of many athletes who use prosthetic limbs. Men and women who lose arms or legs face many challenges in order to be able to compete in the everyday sports or recreation that we may take for granted.

As a senior at Oconee High School, Jarryd Wallace was no stranger to the world of running. He excelled in both track and cross country, holding countless individual titles. However, beginning his senior year, that world began to turn upside down. After suffering from an ongoing pain in his leg, Jarryd was diagnosed with compartment syndrome. He underwent multiple operations in attempt to correct the problem. However, Jarryd was soon faced with the reality of losing the leg. Even with this news, which many athletes would consider to be their worst nightmare, Jarryd maintained his faith and hope for the future.

About 11 weeks after having his leg amputated, Jarryd went on his first pain-free run in years.  Now, nothing can hold him back. With the help of a great support system, he was able to reclaim his love of running. In the 2012 Paralympic Games, he finished sixth in the 400-meter run. He also broke two world records at the IPC World Championship in Lyon, France. Without the technological advances made over the years in prosthetics, none of this would be possible for anyone who had lost a limb.

New advances in the prosthetic market are making the technology used even more closely mirror the functioning of human limbs and joints. According to an article on CNN.com, this new technology is transforming the world of sports. These devices can go as far as determining the athlete’s gait and can even sense when to adjust to different terrain.

For the first time ever, the Paralympics in 2012 were sold out and received a tremendous amount of media coverage. This may be due to the amount of attention and controversy over Oscar Pistorius, a South African athlete and double amputee. Many argued that Oscar’s carbon-fiber running blades actually put him at an advantage over athletes with typical abilities at the 2012 Olympic Games and that he should not be able to compete. This ruling, however, was overturned.

“Oscar Pistorius did a great job putting himself on the map and showing the world how able athletes with disabilities are. It’s about perception. It’s not a disability unless you look at it like that,” said Jarryd.

Kaye Couto, the Assistant Chief of Prosthetics at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, has worked in prosthetics for 15 years. Kaye agrees that the evolving technology has helped enhance amputee’s mobility and creates a more level playing field for athletes. She does not believe that, in Pistorius’ case, prosthetics created an advantage.

“[Having a prosthetic] makes you work that much harder. It’s not like carrying your own limb. The metal adds more weight, so they need to be prepared physically,” said Kaye.

Some technology, however, will be banned from competition. This includes prosthetics that are attached directly to the bone. In the future, mind-controlled prosthetics may also be banned.

Jarryd looks forward to being at the forefront of the movement to create a bright future for the Paralympics, and he won’t let anything hold him back from pursuing his dreams as an athlete. “At no point will prosthesis define who you are. The athlete is an athlete because of their mindset,” he said.

You can read more about Jarryd Wallace, Compartment Syndrome, and
Jarryd’s athletic accomplishments in the January, 2012 issue of Athens MOVE.

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