Performance apparel for wheelchair athletes

A spinal cord injury didn’t prevent Formula 1 racing rider Alessandro Zanardi from winning a gold medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games by hand biking more than nine miles in 22 minutes. Hand bikes and sport wheelchairs are completely customized for the disabled athlete, as well as the type of impairment and sport. While gear has adapted to disabilities, apparel has not. A new research project at the Hohenstein Institute, Bönnigheim, Germany, aims for a better fit.

Project leader Anke Klepser measured the physical dimensions of male wheelchair basketball players and hand bikers. During a stationary 3-D bodyscan, hand bikers recline and wheelchair basketball players sit upright in their usual wheelchairs. The athletes’ custom sport vehicles are assessed with a hand-held scanner. By using scans to create a virtual twin (avatar) of the athlete, Klepser and her team can take accurate body measurements to improve the fit of sports apparel.

Klepser also plans to survey athletes about their physiological, competitive and aesthetic apparel needs, such as skin irritation and pressure sores, cooling or insulation, or wind protection for improved performance. Researchers will use material selection, moisture management, comfort mapping, temperature control and adapted seams to design clothes for the well-dressed para- or quadriplegic athlete. Results will be available to interested manufacturers in early 2014.


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