Product Design students help improve performance of adaptive athletes

Students in the University of Oregon’s Product Design Program in Portland worked this winter with wounded veterans to create innovative products to help them improve their performance in adaptive sports.  

In the studio course, called Adaptive Products | Enabling Athletes with Disabilities, students worked with veterans who were determined to pursue their athletic dreams despite suffering debilitating injuries, including amputation, nerve damage and paralysis.

First offered in 2012, the course was created by adjunct instructors Wilson Smith and Bob Lucas and Product Design program director Kiersten Muenchinger. Smith, a UO graduate, is a design director at Nike Inc. Lucas spent 15 years at Nike and is now head of Adidas Innovation Team Design.

Five students were paired with each of three athletes — fencer Leo Curtis, rower Tony Davis and snowboarder Kevin Pannell. The athletes told students they wanted faster, better and more performance-oriented systems that could be incorporated into their training.

The teams spent 10 weeks working closely with their athlete, attending practices, training sessions and workouts to better understand their needs. From watching the rowing technique of Davis, for instance, students were able to design equipment such as a special seat that would adapt to his lower body strength.

At the end of the course, students unveiled their designs to a panel of design professionals. In introductory remarks, Smith cited the words of Bill Bowerman, the legendary UO track coach, Nike co-founder and athletic innovator.

“If you have a body, you are an athlete.”