Thank you, Oscar Pistorius. Thank you, technology.

by Jen Lee Reeves on August 6, 2012 · 6 comments

in 2012,limb difference community

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[NOTE: This was written long before Oscar Pistorius was arrested and put on trial for the murder of his girlfriend.]

Over the weekend, an amazing thing happened. A man with two prosthetics made it into the semi-finals of the Olympic 400 meter race. In his semi-final heat, he finished last. But in my mind, that doesn’t matter at all. Pistorius not only broke ground for limb different people around the world, he showed a level of competitiveness that wasn’t even expected of him. Forget about the arguments that it wasn’t fair. I shared a link a while back that explains the science behind Pistorius’ prosthetic legs. He makes them fast thanks to his strength and determination.

Image courtesy of AFP/Getty Images.

Last night, Rock Center with Brian Williams shared more insight on Pistorius and his life. The story included a dynamic interview with Hugh Herr, an incredible double amputee who is changing the lower limb prosthetic world at MIT. At the end of the piece, Herr made a statement that made me get chills because he’s so right:

“He isn’t broken. He is perfect.”

Oh hell yeah.

I’ve written many times with stories of how a limb difference does not mean the end of a person’s life. It’s the beginning. Is it different? Yes. But so many people are strong enough to find solutions and ways to power through and do great things.

While I was in New York City, my brother shared a tremendous video of how a really cool technology is helping a little girl name Emma move. It’s technology I had a chance to see in action while I was at SXSW. It’s called a 3D printer. When I saw it in action, it was printing cool things like 3D puzzles and a guitar pick. (I gave one to Cameron to use with his guitar and he thinks it’s so cool.)

A 3D printer uses plastic like you see with Legos and it follows a design from a computer. It actually prints what the computer says to print. The picture to the left shows a MakerBot 3D printer working on printing a 3D image of a hand in a fist. The printer spreads a very fine strip of plastic again and again until it forms the shape you want.

I thought it was cool. I imagined Lego pieces that we’ve lost that could be remade. I imagined trinkets and¬†jewelry. But I never imagined how it can help in the world of prosthetics and orthotics. That is… until I watched this:


A 3D printer created an exoskeleton. Oh my goodness. When it breaks, you print out the piece again? Amazing. Imagine Jordan getting a prosthetic built to meet her needs for sports or some other task but it breaks. I just turn on my 3D printer and recreate the piece so we can go back to living life without interruptions. What about shoe orthotics? Leg braces? My mind is blown with the potential.

It’s been an amazing week for limb differences and technology. I’m stunned by the power of the mind and body to overcome and renew hope that anything is possible.

Thank you, Oscar Pistorius. Thank you, technology.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim August 6, 2012 at 11:10 am

I was just at a Mini-Maker Faire in my area and had a very similar discussion about 3D printers and what they, and other new technologies can do improve the quality of life for so many. Given that you live near a major metro area, I bet with a little Googling, you can find a MakerBot, Maker Faire, MakerSpace or other display of 3D printing in your area.

Jen Lee Reeves August 6, 2012 at 11:56 am

Kim, I’m certainly going to keep my eyes out for a 3D printing opportunity in my area!

Susan August 6, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Whoa. Amazing.

Jen Lee Reeves August 6, 2012 at 9:40 pm

It’s so super cool, right Susan?

Mike February 7, 2013 at 9:20 pm

I think that the new 3d printer technology is totally fascinating. I have seen faces printed and other body parts. Now with the software to take simple photos and put them into 3d rendering, what is stopping anyone from just going to a store and seeing figurines or water fountains or whatever, taking pictures of them and going home to make a 3d duplicate of what they wanted in the store? You can dupe anything anyone else hand sculps or creates on your own. Heck even print your own furniture just by going to the store and taking pictures of what you want. Well maybe the cushions might be a little hard but you can always get some somewhere.

Jen Lee Reeves February 14, 2013 at 6:26 am

Yeah – maybe not cushions but imagine the lower cost of customized prosthetics and orthotics? Ahh! It’s so exciting.

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