Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An OPC Olympian!

In 1972, a seed was planted  in a young boy living in Maryland. Watching the Winter Olympic games, he vowed that one day he would  become an Olympian himself. Young Elliot Weintrob never lost sight of that goal, and after a lot of hard work, the dream was realized when he walked into the Opening Ceremony in Barcelona in 1992.

Elliot was first introduced to kayaking when he was an eight year old camper at Valley Mill Day Camp. While all of his friends amused themselves with other sports, all Elliot wanted to do was stay in the boat. His passion for kayaking was immediate, and it was obvious to all around him that he had a talent.

Between the ages of eight and fifteen, Elliot was immersed in white water kayaking and racing. He trained hard and rose to the top of the youth ranks. Traveling the country to compete, he was winning national competitions when he decided to take a break at the age of fifteen. During his hiatus from the sport, he concentrated his efforts on high school football and traditional teenage activities which included wooing girls and socializing.

As his senior year came to a close, Elliot was pulled again by his love of the kayak. Upon graduation he moved to California to teach kayaking. He soon contacted his former coach and the pair began to aggressively train for his comeback. 

In 1984 he was named to the National Development Team and earned a position on the National Team in 1986. In 1988 an announcement was made that changed the course of Elliot’s life: White Water Kayaking was going to return to the Olympic roster for 1992.

Upon hearing the announcement he decided to dedicate the next four years of his life to realizing his Olympic dream. The story goes that Elliot informed his parents of his decision in a matter-of-fact manner by walking into Harry’s office and saying, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to be training for the next four years to go to the Olympics.” Without missing a beat, Harry simply looked up from the ledger and said, “You’d better make it then.”

Elliot devoted the next four years of his life to the sport of white water slalom (kayaking) and moved to North Carolina to train with other aspiring Olympians. As he recalls, he trained hard and had the time of his life.

Despite setbacks, including his partner getting injured the month before the Olympic trials, Elliot and his partner won the first Olympic trial. The dream of being in the Olympics was realized, and Elliot prepared for an amazing two weeks in Barcelona.

Speaking of the Olympic race today, Elliot admits that his team “didn’t race as well as we could have.” He did not win a medal, but he did have an incredible experience. He walked away from Barcelona with the pride of being an Olympian and memories that he will always cherish.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Debunking the "Prosthetic Advantage"

With Oscar Pistorius set to run in the Olympics on Saturday, the controversy of the "unfair advantage" has hit a boiling point. It seems that forums and blogs are popping up everywhere supporting the prosthetic advantage theory. We firmly believe that these commentators are simply misinformed about the facts. We want to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

The controversy first came to light several years ago when Oscar made his first bid at the Olympics. An Olympic scientific committee was convened to examine the issue with the findings initially seeming to confirm the "prosthetic advantage." According to researchers, Pistorius' cheetah legs provided him with an astounding 90% energy return, considerably higher than the purported 60% by the intact human foot. Immediately the controversy of whether or not carbon fiber prostheses sparked an unfair advantage hit a furious speed.

Upon further examination, it was discovered that researchers involved with the initial study failed to cite the energy return of the human foot with an intact calf muscle (which, in the case of Pistorius is obviously missing). The human foot, with an intact calf muscle, has an energy return of 254%. All seem to agree that a prosthesis cannot provide more than 90% return due to energy lost due to components. It was determined that the carbon fiber prostheses render Pistorius with a 164% energy return deficit over his bi-legged competitors. Although very good prosthetics, the technology does not replace the muscle lost.

With the energy return theory debunked, many are citing differences in oxygen expenditures as an unfair advantage.  Naysayers rationalization that an amputee does not have to work as hard to walk and move because the prosthesis does the work. Obviously these individuals have never tried to walk on a prosthesis!

It has long been accepted by authorities in the field that amputees have to work harder to ambulate and to run. The body must compensate for the lack of muscle and bone, putting more strain on the remaining structures. According to research from the Amputee Research Centre, a bilateral below knee amputee (such as Oscar) expends a whopping 200% increase in oxygen consumption to simply walk. Oscar uses more energy when walking and running because of his prostheses, not less.

The fact remains that on Saturday morning, Oscar will take to the track and run because he has earned his position, not because he has somehow cheated. Insinuating an "amputee advantage" is insulting to every individual living with a limb loss. He has achieved Olympian status because of his will and his hard work, not because of the carbon fiber and components in his prosthesis.