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Wheeling to the Summer Games

As Canada's wheelchair basketball teams hit the court at the Paralympic Summer Games this week, researchers at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) are watching with pride.

They're also relieved to be able to talk about a project that had to remain "top secret" until the games began.

Jim Nikkel, Sports and Wellness Engineering Research Associate with SAIT's Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS), worked with Mike Frogley, high-performance director with WBC, to develop the template competition chair, which can be adjusted on 12 different parameters such as: seat height, camber (tilt), wheel-base length and wheel size, back height and angle, foot-plate position and height, and axle position.

Custom athletics

Wheel chair for paralympic basketballFrogley says the chair enables athletes to test different wheelchair adjustments to create individualized measurements and optimize their pushing, passing, catching and dribbling skills.

"It only took about three hours of using the chair, in total, for each athlete to have objective data about the type of installation they should be using," says Frogley. "In the past, finding that ideal fit would've taken about five years and a lot of money."

Nikkel says the template chair was delivered to Wheelchair Basketball Canada (WBC) in October 2014. From there, athletes took their individualized measurements to manufacturers and ordered customized chairs.

"I delivered it to them personally, so I could show them how to use the chair," says Nikkel. "It was exciting to see how incredibly useful it was to them."

Finding the perfect fit

About 16 male and female athletes at the 2016 Paralympics used the template chair to determine the ideal configuration for their competition wheelchairs. At a cost between $6,000 and $10,000 each, it's important to get them right the first time.

"Once the athlete's chair is a good fit, then we can focus on what matters - the technical skills development and physical development," says Frogley. "We're not held back by a poorly fitting chair."

In total, the teams will each play eight basketball games over 10 days.

Frogley, for whom Brazil is his sixth Paralympics, remains optimistic. "It's a long tournament - the teams that win will be the ones that improve as they go."

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