Drag Racing: How It Parallels O&P

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By Tracy Slemker, CPO

There is a lot more to drag racing than what meets the eye. To those new to the sport, it looks like a bunch of guys who get together, soup up a car or bike, and then stomp on an accelerator to the cheers of a 100,000 speed fanatics like themselves. In reality, it's a precise exercise in alignment, balance, assembly, and quality workmanship. No racer wants to go down the track at nearly 200 miles per hour wondering if the parts are substandard or wondering if the vehicle was put together and balanced correctly.

We in the O&P profession can draw a lot of parallels between our work and the work that is done by a race team. Our patients have their own worries and challenges, and it's our job to help them deal effectively with them. If amputees' lives were a race, we'd be their crew chiefs.

Working with Reggie Showers

Personally, I have an even deeper connection with the parallel I've described. Since 1997, I have been working very closely with Reggie Showers. Reggie is a Pro Stock Motorcycle racer with the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). My work with him as his prosthetist and as his sponsor has been very rewarding and eye-opening. Reggie has been a bilateral transtibial amputee since he was in an electrocution accident at the age of 14. Now 39, he is a polished and successful professional athlete. His profession, which has him racing down a quarter-mile track at speeds in excess of 180 miles per hour, presents challenges to me as his prosthetist. Overcoming these has helped me reshape my thoughts about how patient care and fabrication should be conducted. The way race teams operate led--and continues to lead--my own team to new ideas.

Educational Outreach: ProLAB® Tour

But an idea, especially a good idea, needs to be shared. Reggie Showers has provided us with the opportunity and the means, so we're hitting the road with an educational outreach program, the ProLAB® Tour. The ProLAB Tour is a continuing education opportunity, making the 15 stops Reggie makes during the 2003 NHRA season, which began in March in Gainesville, Florida. Our "classroom" features a 36-foot Kenworth mobile training/fabrication lab parked alongside Reggie's rig in the pits. The Kenworth is a self-contained O&P facility. PDI's NexForm lathe and Nexvac thermoformer are onboard, making up the centerpiece of our hands-on CAD/CAM training. Outside the Kenworth, in a well-appointed patio area, our students learn how modular high-tech components enhance clinical and fabrication processes. These events take place all over the country, essentially bringing our ideas to you.

At some point, when the race and preparation schedule permits, Reggie and his crew chief, George Bryce, give a short clinic on Pro Stock Motorcycle racing. That's where our message about the parallels between drag racing and O&P gets hammered home. Reggie and George settle for nothing less than the best parts, the tightest alignments, and the lightest weights. Going to the starting line unbalanced, too heavy, and with substandard components presents a dangerous situation. I feel that our patients deserve the same consideration the Pro Stock racers enjoy. Although most of our patients don't have to endure three Gs at 180 miles per hour, they have their own challenges. They should be as well equipped and prepared as they can be.

The experience of learning from Reggie and George and seeing other race teams in action is simply unmatched in my long experience with O&P educational outings. The ProLAB Tour immerses the attendee in a high-stakes arena, where professionals get things done at a very high level. That is an example for us all.

There are substantial costs involved with an enterprise like this, and we have help. Snap-on Tools has been generous with its help. Snap-On has been heavily involved in racing and is well-known and respected. Its engineers are always at work designing high-quality tools optimized for specific applications. The team at Snap-On is another great example for O&P practitioners to follow.

Showers Raises Awareness

As a professional athlete competing in a popular sport (1.5 million fans will attend the 15 events this year, with over 80 million more watching on ESPN and ESPN2), Reggie gets a lot of media attention. His race-day schedule quickly fills with interviews. His story is an interesting one which appeals to both disabled and able-bodied fans. Reggie's value as a representative of the disabled community is high, since he raises awareness of the challenges disabled persons face. He inspires other disabled people to work to achieve their goals. Many times patients will ask me about Reggie's prosthesis and clinical care and how they can reach an activity level equal to his. This is a good thing--and it could be a good thing for all of us. Applying the national average of one half of one percent of the population being amputees, over 40,000 of the millions of NHRA fans will be amputees. That's a lot of people Reggie can reach and inspire to come to the O&P profession for more help in achieving their dreams.

The ProLAB Tour also has the potential to educate third-party payers about the amount of professionalism and technology it takes to create a sound prosthesis. Many are in the dark on the specifics of our industry, and with the ProLAB Tour, we hope to shed a little light.

NHRA/ProLAB Invitation

We are in the process of inviting almost every O&P professional to the NHRA/ProLAB events this year. Even if you're not a racing fan or are not favorably disposed to motorcycles because of their inherent dangers, it's still beneficial to get the exposure to the race teams while earning the CEUs from the course we provide. We're more interested in the attendee getting something out of that exposure to race teams and our course than the actual racing itself, although watching the actual racing is not a bad way to spend the afternoon.

I think that the future of O&P will demand a more high-tech approach to patient care and fabrication as the amputee population continues to grow. It's a race we must win. If you're interested and can't wait for the invitation to our course, contact us for a schedule.

Contact Tracy Slemker, CPO, at Prosthetic Design Inc. (PDI), 800.459.0177 or 937.836.1464; www.prostheticdesign.com

Prosthetic Design, Inc.