skiing

Tetra Ski Helps People Confined to Wheelchairs Get Back on the Slopes

NBC Universal, Inc.

Each year, almost 18,000 people across the U.S. suffer a life-changing spinal cord injury. A quarter of a million people live every day confined to a wheelchair. The loss of freedom can be detrimental to a person’s physical and emotional well-being. Researchers are working on innovative ways to help their patients enjoy the things they thought they would never do again.

Rebecca Farewell loved the freedom of falling from 10,000 feet when she was a skydiving instructor, with 7,000 jumps. But her last jump went terribly wrong.

“I hit a pocket of nasty air on my parachute. I slid across the ground for about a hundred feet plus,” Farewell painfully recalls.

Her accident left her quadriplegic.

“A lot of people that have a catastrophic injury or illness, a lot of times they're quite worried and distraught about the things that they're not going to be able to do,” said Dr. Jeffrey Rosenbluth, a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation doctor at the University of Utah.

That’s why Rosenbluth and the University of Utah Rehabilitation Research and Development team built the Tetra Ski.

“We designed this ski to be able to be skied independently by someone with a very complex disability, with very little or no hand function, and even in some cases, just breath control,” Rosenbluth explained.

“There's a little straw on an antenna and they fit it to your mouth so it doesn't flop everywhere. And you give a little puff on it, you turn right. Little sip on it, you turn left," said Farewell.

Electric actuators on the Tetra Ski provide independent turning and speed variability, using smart technology to give the skier complete control.

“Every time you can bring a piece of independence back to someone and restore something that was lost, it's a big deal,” said Rosenbluth.

The team has also created a sailboat, fishing rod, cross country ski, and off-road wheelchair in hopes that more people will have the ability to experience the independence they once had.

“I was shocked at how fast it was. It was the most freeing experience of my life since my accident,” Farewell said.

Right now, the Tetra Ski is available through adaptive ski programs around the world, with instructors who have been through a training program. But the hope is that its popularity will continue to grow and Tetra Ski racing will become a part of the Para Olympics.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

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