Monday, January 24, 2011

College of Southern Idaho welding program builds specialized wheelchair for disabled vet who wants to be Paralympian

From The Times-News in Idaho:

Andrew Pike’s (pictured) new dream is to throw the javelin or shot put at the U.S. Track and Field Nationals.

He already has the determination. In a few weeks he’ll have a customized training schedule. All he’s waiting on is his new chair.

A sniper’s bullet took Pike’s legs and abdominal muscles when it hit the Army specialist during a 2007 patrol in Iraq. A former Kimberly High School football and baseball player, Pike, 25, hadn’t seen himself as an athlete who would compete on the national stage.

But big dreams grew from the blood-stained ground from which Pike rose. The Purple Heart recipient now sets his sights on competing in the Paralympics, one of the highest levels of athletic competition in the world.

“It was a hobby. Now it’s like a job,” Pike said of his athletic ambitions. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work and dedication to get to that level.”

He approached the College of Southern Idaho’s welding program in July to see if students could build a special aluminum chair for him to use in Paralympic track and field events as he readies for the June nationals. He’s used other people’s chairs while attending five competitions in the past year, but said having his own would make it easier to train and compete across the nation.

CSI welding instructor Jon Hardesty said Pike’s new chair began as one person’s project but expanded into something everyone could work on. Aluminum was donated by Pacific Steel and Recycling.

Hardesty said the project will be completed next week.

The chair’s base rides 27.5 inches from the ground and supports two poles where a backrest will eventually be placed. Its front features an upward-angled pole Pike will use to create leverage when he throws the javelin and shot.

He’s attended Paralympic military sports camps geared toward disabled veterans in seven U.S. locations and was encouraged to pick a sport that fit his abilities.

“They told me to stick with what you naturally can do,” Pike said. “I was better at shot put and javelin.”

On Friday, welding students made finishing touches to the white chair with a brown, padded seat. Four spikes were crafted so Pike could secure the chair with straps to the ground during competitions and training.

Pike said a similar chair would normally cost about $2,500, but Hardesty said it wasn’t a hard project for students to work on.

“They went so far to machine a handle so I have more grab,” Pike said, pointing at the grooves in the metal. “They went above and beyond with this project.”

Pike will start training with his new chair in the coming weeks and looks forward to upcoming competitions. He plans to be at nationals in June, where he has ambitions of being named to the U.S. National Team.

While the training will be important, Pike said spending time with his 3-year-old daughter, Brynlee, is something he cherishes. He also looks forward to finishing his associate degree in political science in May.

“I would really like to work for the PVA (Paralyzed Veterans of America),” Pike said.