This year has seen Britain’s athletes achieve their most successful Olympics since 1908 and their best ever ‘away’ games after winning a total of 67 medals. This September, the Paralympics will begin, giving Team GB’s para-athletes their opportunity to shine.
A number of BU staff will be making contributions to the Paralympics, from supporting athletes out in Rio to designing equipment to influencing the way disabled athletes are portrayed in the news.
Improving the design of sporting equipment
Dr Bryce Dyer, Head of BU’s Design & Engineering Research Centre, is an expert in the design and analysis of elite sporting equipment. His research into prosthesis has led him to design prosthetic limbs for Irish Paralympic cyclist, Colin Lynch.
“The research project stemmed from my curiosity about how important a prosthetic limb might or might not be when cycling competitively,” explains Dr Dyer, “I really enjoy doing research that has tangible real world applications – particularly in elite sport, which is a major passion of mine both inside and outside of the university.”
“I worked with Pace Rehabilitation to really see if we could optimise the aerodynamics, weight, construction and general biomechanics of the Colin’s prosthesis. This led to a prosthetic leg being designed specifically for him that met his needs and was tailored to the kind of events he participates in.”
In addition to his practice-based research, Dr Dyer has also explored the controversies surrounding the use of technology in sport and whether these bring athletes an unfair advantage. Whether it is the use of prosthetic limbs, a highly developed bicycle or the latest in cutting edge materials, he has shown that any debate can produce solutions that can be positive, damaging or incredibly exciting to competitive sport as we push the boundaries of human performance.
Changing perceptions of disability through media coverage of the Paralympics
Not only has BU research influenced athletes competing in the Paralympics, it has also changed the way that para-athletes are represented in the media. Dr Carrie Hodges and her team influenced Channel 4’s ‘Meet the Superhumans’ campaign and its coverage of the 2012 and now 2016 Paralympics. The award-winning campaign helped to re-shape people’s perceptions of disability.
“We spent 18 months researching attitudes towards disabled people,” explains Dr Hodges, “We looked at people’s everyday experiences in the context of the 2012 Paralympics. We found that one of the greatest causes of stigma surrounding disability is fear. That fear tends to stem from a lack of experience of disability and a lack of authentic stories about disabled people.”
“The Paralympics are a great opportunity to change perceptions of disability and we’re delighted that our research helped to make a difference.”
Working at the Paralympics
Dr Osman Ahmed, a Lecturer in Physiotherapy, will be travelling to Rio in September to support Great Britain’s Cerebral Palsy Football Team.
“I’ve been working as a physiotherapist for the Football Association for over ten years. I’ve worked with a number of teams, including the England Amputee Football team, the England Blind Football Team, and now GB’s Cerebral Palsy Football Team,” says Dr Ahmed.
“It’s great to be a part of such an important sporting event and to get to work alongside some of the country’s top athletes. I work with the team to help prevent injuries and provide rehabilitation and support when they do occur in training or on the pitch.”
“We’ve got a tough draw this year – our first match is against the hosts Brazil and our second is against Ukraine, who have one of the best teams in the world, but I think we’ve got a really good chance of doing well and maybe even finishing on the podium.”