“On My Own Two Feet”, doing a 3000 with a prosthesis

You have to see this 32-minute film to understand what changing someone’s life means. That of the six amputees who, thanks to a new blade developed by a team from Airbus Humanity Lab, engineering students from IMT Mines Albi in Toulouse and Salomon have discovered or rediscovered the pleasures of the mountains, hiking and trail running. And those of their pairs, valid. An inspiring story.

“My first thought was: but what are we doing here? When you see all these people about to climb, you just hope you’re not setting them up to fail,” says Jérôme Bernard, co-organizer of the Hopper project, conducted in collaboration with Salomon. With five other amputees, Jérome, who at the age of 9 lost his right arm and both legs, is preparing to climb the Pointe de l’Observatoire, a 3016-meter summit, in the Vanoise. The culmination of a very long road, the culmination of which we follow in this very moving documentary which has just been put online by the equipment manufacturer “On My Own Two Feet”, or “on my two feet”.

This title will probably mean nothing to the French reader, but it is also the title of a book released in 2015 that shocked America: the story of Amy Purdy. In 2014, at the Paralympic Games, she was the only competitor, male or female, with two prosthetic legs. She will win a bronze medal for the American Paralympic team in adapted snowboarding, and will draw a best seller from it before winning, on her blades, at Dancing With the Stars. “A heroine”, Oprah Winfrey will say of her.

But Amy is not the only one who commands admiration if we judge by this 32-minute documentary that Salomon has just put online: “On My Own Two Feet, doing a 3000 with a prosthesis”. No snowboarding or dancing this time, but walking and trail running, at altitude with the story of six amputees – Luca, Sarah, Christophe, Boris, Jérôme and Michel. Aged 19 to 64, they undertook the ascent of a 3,000-meter summit, the tip of the Observatory, in the Vanoise. An expedition that is part of the Hopper 3000 project, a collaboration between Airbus Humanity Lab and engineering students from IMT Mines Albi in Toulouse aimed at developing a new, more affordable prosthetic blade for amputees.

Using the new Hopper blade prototype, which also features a Salomon-made outsole, the disabled group and their able-bodied partners will embark on a climb that could change everything…if it works. Because many fear failure, especially since its blades are presented to them for the first time, on the eve of their ascension. And the first to doubt, suddenly, it is Jérôme Bernard, at the origin of the project.

Tri-amputee, he was looking to buy prosthetic legs to start running again. But the prostheses available on the market are far too expensive. He then contacted the French aircraft manufacturer Airbus to see if it was possible to develop a more affordable prosthesis using composite materials, titanium in particular, left over from the aircraft. Ten students from the IMT Les Mines engineering school will work on this project for four months before contacting Salomon to work on the outsole of the prosthesis. Patrick Leick, Athlete Services Manager for Salomon Trail-Running, sees this as a great opportunity to help make hiking and running more accessible to amputees where they are virtually absent.

The combined team will spend several months testing different prototypes with Jérôme and another amputee, Boris Ghirardi, two riders who have since become Team Salomon athletes. At the heart of the project, the biomechanical laboratory of the equipment manufacturer which, to test the blade, will rely on decades of biomechanical knowledge acquired by creating shoes for trail runners and hikers. The grippy Contagrip technology, developed and refined by Salomon over the years, will notably allow them to create a durable outsole that amputees can use for walking or even running in the mountains.

Result: a sports blade now available from prosthetists whose overall cost is halved compared to ordinary prostheses. Or 1950€. A small fortune no doubt many amputees, but it’s a revolution for all those who like Luca, Sarah, Christophe, Boris, Jérôme and Michel have been able to test it in Vanoise.

Five different profiles, from young Lucas to Michel, 67, via Sarah who would like to finally be able to hike and run again. At the refuge of Aussois everyone discovers this new blade. For some, it’s a revelation, Sarah starts dancing. For others, consternation: only pain for the eldest, Michel. It is therefore full of apprehension but also of hope that the group leaves for its 3000. Everyone will come back changed. We see them climbing on the rocks, running towards the summit, but also stumbling on the descent which turns out to be perilous, the contact zone of the blade being very thin. The opportunity for the young inventors of Hopper to further refine their product to which they added a kind of small heel to stabilize it on the descent. For everyone, the emotion at the end of this hike like no other is immense. « If it had existed 20 years earlier, my life would not have been the same, » says Michel, who has had a triple amputation since the age of 23. In front of the camera, he cracks. Of joy. And it’s not cinema. He had wanted to go to the mountains for 40 years and couldn’t.

There are days when you must be damn happy to have invented a simple thing that gives others a taste of happiness, says the entire team that took part in this project.

Header photo: Solomon

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