Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ohio high school class fashions handcycle for disabled athlete

From The Press. In the picture, Clay High School student Grant Romstadt making cuts on the stabilizer mounting collars.

Talk about a guy who doesn't let a handicap slow him down.

Leland Foster has suffered from cerebral palsy his entire life, and he uses a wheelchair. But as instructor Tony Spallino's integrated machining and engineering students found out last fall, Foster is perfectly capable of taking care of himself.

“He's a brilliant mind, very personable,” Spallino said. “He'll joke about things, even his CP. To him, he doesn't have a disability. He's done more than 10 able-bodied people I know. He's done marathons, he snow skis, he water skis, he's done the New York Marathon. He's the most active person I know, but he's trapped in this body that limits him.”

Spallino has known Foster since they were kids. Spallino went to Waite and then graduated from Start in 1983, while Spallino graduated from Clay in 1979.

Foster, 46, earned a degree in mechanical design at Owens Community College, and he recently earned a certificate in architectural design from Owens. He is currently enrolled at Bowling Green State University to pursue a degree in engineering technology.

Foster, who now lives in Swanton, began competing in wheelchair races in his early 20s, and he's competed in a handful of marathons using a hand cycle.

“He's living life,” Spallino said. “He lives on his own and he takes care of his mom. He's pretty much been on his own for 15 years or so. He drives a van. To watch him load up the special bike and his wheelchair, he looks like he's struggling to do it but he does it by himself.”

Foster has competed in – and completed – the Cleveland Marathon.

“I'm not one of those go-faster guys,” he said. “I just do it to have fun and compete. Cleveland took me about four and a half hours; they're very tiring. With the bike, I'd say I've done about five marathons so far. I just like the opportunity to be out with everybody else and be able to compete. I like to be out there with other disabled people, just to share experiences and compete. It's a rewarding experience when you finish them.”

Foster was competing in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31, but he wasn't able to finish the race. His hand cycle hit a pothole and he injured his shoulder about 8.5 miles into the race.

That's where Spallino's integrated machining and engineering class entered the picture.

“He called me and said he had this issue with this bike,” Spallino said. “He'd get up to certain speeds and it would start shimmying. We talked about putting a stabilizer bar on. We told him to bring it by and see what we can come up with. It's a very light bike.”

Foster said his hand cycle uses the same principles as a 27-speed bicycle.

“Where the guide wheel is, that's the wheel you use to turn the bike,” he said. “There's a little piece of rubber that goes in the fork under the front end of the bike that keeps the wheel from wobbling. The one that was on there when (the hand cycle) was created wasn't strong enough to keep the bike going straight.

“I took a piece off an older bike I had and I had it modified to that bike, to keep the wheel rolling straight. The Clay kids made some different clamps so I can attach the device to the bike. They took measurements of the bike and created the clamps from those measurements. Then we just went through fitting the piece to the bike.”

Spallino, who has been an instructor at Clay since 1994, said his integrated machining and engineering class usually has about 20 students.

“They're learning engineering principles,” he said. “Most of my students go into the tool and die and metalworking industry. The seniors go out to work and help make medical knee replacements, hip replacements and a lot of the titanium used for spinal chord injuries.”

Clay seniors Ryan Armstrong and Grant Romstadt helped design the part and fit it onto Foster's hand cycle. Romstadt said the process took about two and a half days.

“We drew a couple pictures and decided on the best one and went with the one that looked the best and seemed like it would function,” Romstadt said. “We were pretty confident. It worked great. He was pretty excited and he was ready to go test it out. We bolted the stabilizer bar on there real well and it looked natural. It looked like it came from the factory.”

Spallino said it was a good chance for his students to interact with someone who has cerebral palsy. Foster's speech pattern often makes it difficult to understand what he is saying.

“They love him,” Spallino said. “They joke with him and he jokes back. He has a great sense of humor. When we told him we were done, he didn't think it would work but he wanted to give it a shot. He couldn't have been more excited that day. He took it for a ride in the parking lot and got it up to top speed. He was so happy, you couldn't have knocked the smile off his face.”

Foster, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 155 pounds, said the new and improved hand cycle “turned out great.”

“They basically eliminated the problem I had,” he said. “They did an excellent job. I was thoroughly impressed.”

Foster hasn't competed in any road races since the Clay students worked on his cycle, but he has his eye on an upcoming race in Grand Rapids, Mich., in April.

“It's too far ahead, so I can't make a commitment,” Foster said. “I think I'm doing pretty well for an old-timer. I try to keep a balance between school and working out. I want to get other people involved doing this. I've been trying to get other people to come out and go riding and just get out and exercise. It's hard to get people riding and doing stuff like that.