An uniquely-designed adapted wheelchair developed in Sherbrooke, Quebec is allowing adults with limited mobility to enjoy the outdoors in a whole new way.
Somewhat like a jogging stroller but made for disabled adults, the Kartus wheelchair’s pivoting front wheel sets it apart from U.S.- and European-designed products, says its designer, engineer and entrepreneur Philip Oligny, 29. This makes it appropriate for racing as well as regular running, and a Guinness record will be attempted at the Montreal Marathon in September. (A world record half-marathon time has already been achieved unofficially, but insufficient documentation resulted in its not being recognized.)
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The front wheel innovation sets the Kartus chair apart from that used by Team Hoyt, for example–the father and son pair who ran 32 Boston Marathons together, father Dick pushing his son Rick in an adapted wheelchair.
Oligny developed the chair over a three-year period. It was the brainchild of Sherbrooke neurologist and runner Marc Therrien, who did not have to look farther than his local university to find an engineering student who was keen to take on the project. When Oligny finished the prototype, Therrien bought five chairs and organized regular weekly outings for runners and disabled people in Jacques Cartier Park.
The chair’s design allows it to be used anywhere. It weighs only 30 pounds, but its light, rigid chassis can accommodate an adult weighing up to 250 pounds. Most of the parts are sourced from the bicycle industry, including the 26-inch rims and tires, which can be swapped out depending on the terrain.
Once in motion, the chair is easy to push and control with one or both hands. There is one hand-brake and a safety strap for the runner, just like on a jogging stroller. Also, the wheels come off easily, making it transportable, and the design is ergonomic for both runner and passenger, with many more adjustments than are offered by competing products, according to Oligny. (The angle of the back of the chair is adjustable, as is the handle height.)
The chair, which costs $4,000, is being marketed to running organizations as well as nursing homes. So far Oligny has sold eight, some to runners for use with disabled family members, and some to institutions.
“I’m not really a runner myself,” says Oligny, “but this is my marathon.”
Editor’s Update: After publishing this story, we became aware of Jason Cole’s efforts to promote runner-assisted wheelchair racing for the disabled in British Columbia. Cole and partner Rand Surbey, who has CP, have run mutliple half-marathons and obstacle races together, not only to break records (unofficially, because Cole’s wheelchairs are made from scrap parts and are not commercially available) but to promote inclusion and raise funds. They will be racing the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon again this year, on October 21. Readers can donate at the Cerebral Palsy Association of British Colubmia page, here.