Paratriathlete Allysa Seely works with a team of doctors and specialists behind the scenes, including Dr. Amber Donaldson at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, to ensure that her running gait is the best it can be. “Changing the Games” is a 10-part video series produced in collaboration with Lyda Hill Philanthropies.
Changing the Games -- The Biomechanics of a Paratriathlete
KATHRYN TAPPEN reporting:
At the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, paratriathlete Allysa Seely made history…
ALLYSA SEELY (Paralympic Gold Medalist): USA!
HAILEY DANZ (Paralympic Silver Medalist): USA!
TAPPEN: ...when at her Paralympic debut, she brought home the gold.
SEELY: It was a pretty incredible day.
TAPPEN: Enduring a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike ride, and 5-kilometer run, the para-triathlon presents herculean challenges.
SEELY: My background actually is mostly in running. And so I didn't find triathlon until college. And I fell in love with the sport and started training full time.
TAPPEN: But what makes athletes like Seely so incredible is their ability to triumph under the most impossible of circumstances. In 2010, she was diagnosed with several medical conditions that caused traumatic injuries to her brain and spine.
SEELY: Because of the brain injury and a spinal cord injury I have, I have very little sensation when I run.
TAPPEN: Seely underwent major surgery, but complications led to the amputation of her left leg below the knee in 2013. And if that wasn't enough, in her right leg, Seely lacks something called proprioception.
SEELY: Proprioception is basically your body's ability to feel where it is in space to tell you how your foot is positioned. I have very poor sense of proprioception. And so I have to utilize other clues, looking down and looking at my feet to see which one's in front.
Dr. AMBER DONALDSON (U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee): When you're able to hit it straight on, that's where it's less pressure on your Achilles.
DONALDSON: I worked with Allysa in various ways, in helping her overcome some of her medical conditions.
TAPPEN: Amber Donaldson is the Senior Director of Sports Medicine Clinics for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. She heads up sports medicine for Paralympians and works with Seely on issues related to her biomechanics, the mechanics of how her body moves.
DONALDSON: When people wear prosthetics, it changes their alignment. And so especially when you're running a triathlon or swimming or having to change your legs with different bike settings, it really changes your biomechanics.
TAPPEN: Due to her amputation, Seely’s center of mass, or the point on her body at which the force of gravity appears to act, is different than a person with two legs. The pressure that her prosthetic applies to her body can make a huge difference in her running gait and balance.
SEELY: The way our prosthetic and our blade works is so important into how the whole biomechanical picture comes together. It's one of our legs. And so you can't count it out. And it a lot of times causes a chain reaction in other motion and movement on the other side to try to balance it out.
TAPPEN: To help Seely improve her performance, Donaldson searches for clues to explain any imbalances in her gait.
DONALDSON: The technology that we use includes motion capture, so 3-D analysis through Noraxon system. It creates kind of like an avatar of the athlete up on the screen with markers that we have in cameras. To the naked eye, we think we have it, but then when we actually slow it down, we pick up other things that we maybe didn't realize.
SEELY: By looking at those little movements, I'm able to start working on better motion and better propulsion.
TAPPEN: Even the tiniest differences can make a huge impact especially in the long run.
DONALDSON: We'll look at hips, spine, motion, all of that. If it doesn't feel right, she's not going to put weight, even if it's subconsciously.
SEELY: It's pretty incredible. Millimeters can make a difference.
DONALDSON: Is it OK if we tape on the bottom?
SEELY: Yeah, as long as there's some tread left.
DONALDSON: She is so keen and aware of her body and her sport, she can pick up where something doesn't feel right.
Is that more on the tibia that you're feeling it?
SEELY: I feel it more in the tibia than the Achilles, but it's better on the tibia than it was.
TAPPEN: The data that Donaldson collects will drive decisions about adjustments to either to her prosthetic or her training.
DONALDSON: We correspond with her, her prosthetist who built the leg and knows kind of the ins and outs of that equipment. And so we can work together to make those adjustments.
TAPPEN: With the help of technology and medical science, Seely and Donaldson work together to identify problems and find solutions.
DONALDSON: It’s more right at the foot on your right side.
Sometimes it's really thinking outside the box. And especially in the Paralympic world. I just love sport and I love to be able to make just a little bit of difference.
SEELY: You can work as hard as you want. But sometimes it's like the very little changes that's going to prove successful.
DONALDSON: Seeing people meet their dreams, it’s-- I don't think there's even words to explain.
TAPPEN: With the help of STEM professionals like Donaldson, Seely can keep reaching for the gold.
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