Monday, September 22, 2008

Run With Erica, Run Because You Can

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

I am fortunate to work with so many remarkable individuals. One of them is Erica Van Zuidam (second from right in the photo, between me and Jason Wening of Scheck & Siress.)

Summer is one of the most difficult seasons for Erica. She has a lot less skin surface area to dissipate heat, and she’s been doing a great job dealing with that challenge as she runs as best she can.

On Saturday, her efforts paid off as she successfully was among 90 runners in a 5K race organized by the Kinesiology Student Association at the University of Illinois, where she is a senior. "Run With Erica, Run Because You Can," as the event was named, received very good coverage from The News-Gazette in Champaign.

In addition to Erica and Jason, who finished first in the 30-39 year-old age group, joining us was one other amputee runner, Patrick, and two other Scheck & Siress staff members, Ania Jarosz, a patient care coordinator at our UIC office, and Leah Witte, an orthotist at our Rush office.

The News-Gazette has done some other outstanding and

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Melissa Carries The American Flag

In a fitting tribute, Melissa Stockwell was selected as the flag bearer for the United States during closing ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.

It's a great honor for Melissa, who while growing up developed a passion for the American flag and all that it represents.

And as you can see from the U.S. Paralympic announcement, her selection stems from respect she has earned from a variety of U.S. Paralympians, not only fellow swimmers.

You can read Melissa's own account of this development on her latest blog post.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Melissa Featured in Chicago Sun-Times

Today's Chicago Sun-Times included a feature by Andrew Herrmann on Melissa Stockwell. Herrmann wrote two previous pieces on Melissa, including one in April when she qualified for the Paralympic Games.

We appreciate the interest that Herrmann and the Sun-Times have taken in Melissa's inspiring story.

Melissa Profiled In New York Times Video

The New York Times produced a 4 1/2-minute video on Melissa Stockwell's journey to the Paralympic Games, including her remarkable, American world record-setting qualification for the Paralympic Swim Team at the Trials in April.

Entitled "From Baghdad to Beijing," the video is here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Day 10: Goodbye, Unforgettable Beijing

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

How fast the time has flown!

I can’t believe it, but I am packing for the airport to return home to Chicago. This has been such a wonderful trip in so many ways. I got a chance to root for Melissa as she swam, representing our country. I also got a chance to see many different events and to learn about a different culture. I am very impressed by Beijing. It is a first-rate modern city.

This experience has instilled in me the desire to come back and visit more of this vast land. For now, I take my memories and experiences back home with me, memories I won’t forget.

Zai Jian (goodbye) from Beijing

Friday, September 12, 2008

Day 9: Melissa's Valiant Effort

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

The day that Melissa had been waiting for: today is the 400-meter free, which is Melissa’s strongest event. The morning session again is the qualifying session to make it to the finals, held the same day later in the evening.

We are now accustomed to waiting for her meet, which is second-to-last. Finally, Melissa comes out and our section erupts with cheer. The race begins and Melissa is off to a good start. This is a long race, making it possible for swimmers to improve their positions or get overtaken by a competitor’s surge.

Despite a valiant effort, Melissa finishes fifth in this race with one more meet in her S9 class to go. As we learned, the competition is very stiff. After the final race they put the qualifiers on the screen. As the names go up, it becomes clear that the competition is just too stiff and that Melissa’s time isn’t a qualifying time.

She finishes number 17. We are so proud of our champ! She defied all odds and made the Paralympic squad. She represented our country valiantly. At the end of the heat we got a chance to see Melissa. She got a supporting and comforting embrace from her husband, Dick, and a shoulder to grieve on.

We all got a chance to give Melissa a hug and tell her how proud of her we are. She is understandably disappointed. We all plan to go to the finals this evening to cheer on the American team.

During the evening session we got a chance to see Jessica Long get a gold medal. For the first time at an Olympic Games, I saw our flag raised and listened to The Star-Spangled Banner at an award ceremony. It was a very proud moment.

Melissa got a chance to sit with us and cheer for a bit. Every one in the American cheering section got a chance to congratulate her on the great accomplishment of being a Paralympian.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Day 8: Biking in Beijing

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

The morning is spent taking a bike tour of Beijing. It was great to get a feel for this mode of transportation used by many to get around the city. We had a nice tour guide who took us to different historical landmarks around the city.

The evening was spent at a Kun Fu Opera. The acrobatics were incredible and we all thoroughly enjoyed the show. Tomorrow is Melissa’s last day of swimming so we all get back to the hotel for the early start.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Day 7: Wheelchair Hoops & History

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

Observed a game of wheelchair basketball at the national indoor stadium. How impressive!

I was amazed how physical and fast the game is. Canada played Japan and won by a large margin. It was clear that the Canadian team, although older, had a lot more experience.

We spent the afternoon at Tiananmen Square and then the Forbidden City. Tiananmen is a large square surrounded by Chinese municipal museums, museums and ancient structures from the Ming Dynasty.

To the north is the famous portrait of Mao Zedong overlooking the square. That is the building where Mao proclaimed the New State of the People’s Republic of China. The Forbidden City was where China’s emperors lived. It is called forbidden because only the emperor and his subjects were allowed in its gates.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Day 6: The Bird's Nest (Part II)

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

Back at the Bird’s Nest for the evening meets. More amazing stuff to watch.

Out of sheer luck, I am there to watch “the race” between Oscar "Bladerunner" Pistorius, the double amputee from South Africa who attempted to make the Olympics, and Marlon Shirley, the reigning champ of the 100-meter race.

Tragically, Shirley pulled his Achilles tendon midway and fell to the ground. Pistorius just edged out the other American in the race to take gold. USA took silver and bronze.

Just a few races later, April Holmes, the American runner favored to win the 200, fell in the last 20 meters of her race. She was leading with a comfortable margin. A tough night for the American runners.

The highlight of the evening was China’s blind male 5,000-meter runner winning his race in dramatic fashion. The 90,000 who packed the stadium roared loudly in celebration. This is my only experience in the Bird’s Nest and I am sorry it is over at the end of the day.

Day 6: The Bird's Nest

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

Track and field: I finally get an opportunity to go in to the national stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest for its interesting architecture.

I have not ceased to be impressed by this incredible complex.

The national stadium is fantastic. Not a bad seat to be had in the house. We were able to watch long jump, shot put, discus, running events and wheel chair racing in the span of four hours.

What an incredible experience! The most moving of all was the blind runners running with their guides. It is just amazing to watch the two tethered together running down the track.

In the women’s 100-meter final, the Chinese competitor won and the stadium erupted in cheer.

During the medal ceremony, that competitor found her guide’s neck and put her Gold medal around him. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

It is now midday and they cleared the stadium for the evening events, which I can’t wait to get back to!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Day 5: Melissa's 2nd Race & Other Events

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

Melissa’s second race: Another morning and we are headed first thing to the Water Cube. We already know that Melissa swims last so the group is more comfortable settling to watch the different events. Another wonderful morning spent watching the different classes of swimmers compete.

Melissa’s category is S9, which has a lot of participants. When Melissa came out, she was greeted by the same very loud applause from our cheering section. Day 2 and we are still the loudest!

The race begins and so does the cheering! Melissa swims against steep competition and does great! Although her times are short for qualifying for the final, she swims a personal best.

Going in, Melissa knew this would be a challenging event as it proves to be. She shows improvement yet again, advancing to #18 in the world.

As a group we have a break from Melissa swimming events until Friday. Now it is time to experience some of the other venues and sports. After a morning of swimming, we ventured out of the main complex by bus to a separate complex where wheelchair tennis was taking place.

What amazing athletes! I can say with utmost certainty that if you put me against any of the competitors they would easily make quick work of me. I was so impressed by the coordination of hitting a ball and navigating in a chair at the same time. I think I said “wow” a lot!

The day is done and we are off to have dinner as a group in a more local setting in Beijing. Tomorrow I go to the national stadium for track and field.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Day 4: Melissa's First Race

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

With some remarkable experiences already under my belt, today was the day that I've been especially looking forward to: Melissa Stockwell's competition in the Paralympic Games.

All of Melissa’s fans met as a group at the hotel and walked to the Water Cube together. Walking into the Olympic Village for the first time is incredibly impressive. Once you get to the main square you can fully appreciate just how massive a complex the Village is.

The Water Cube, where all the swimming takes place, is probably the most interesting of all the buildings. As you get closer you realize that it does not have solid walls but rather a transparent exterior made from a heavy cloth/plastic. You can see the steel endoskeleton structure underneath as you get closer to the building. There are projectors behind the exterior walls. This is how the Water Cube changes colors at night: it projects the light from the inside out.

Once you go in, you see the inner part of the Cube is constructed with plastic panels. The shapes resemble amoeba-like water droplets strung together with a steel frame, an incredibly interesting artistic structure.

The pool is awesome! The energy and excitement is palpable as you walk in and see the athletes doing warm-up laps. We all spotted Melissa and went nuts!

We easily have the largest cheering section, complete with matching Melissa T-shirts and visors. Melissa looks awesome warming up in the pool.
Melissa’s round is the very last of the session, leaving us all waiting in anticipation. The races were amazing! We all marveled at the determination and will of the racers. There is an intricate classification system pairing racers together that I still don’t fully understand. You will see some races where you have amputees racing against people with all their limbs that have some other type of deficit.

Some of the visually impaired racers have enough sight that they can be totally independent, contrasted by the high-level involved quadriplegics and paraplegics who need assistance getting in and out of the water. The crowd was great cheering on their home countries and giving encouragement to every racer to finish the race.

Finally…the moment we had all been waiting for arrived. It was time for Melissa to swim the 100-meter butterfly. Melissa walked out to the pool deck and our section erupted! We were easily the loudest fans, even louder than the raucous Australians! I think we were all more nervous than Melissa!

The crowd got quiet in anticipation of the starting horn and then….explosion! The place went nuts with cheering. I was screaming the whole time: “Swim! Swim! Go! Go!”

Unfortunately, as Melissa herself described in her blog, today was not to be.
Melissa swam her heart out but failed to qualify for the final round. She is a champion to us all! She races again tomorrow in the 100-meter freestyle.

We all got a chance to walk around the Olympic Village and take in the different sights. We even got a surprise chance to visit with our champ. We spent about 20 minutes in the Water Cube with Melissa. She was disappointed by the morning race, as can be expected, but looks great!

Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Day 3: The Great Wall of China

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

I met some of Melissa’s very nice friends and four of us chartered a mini-van and hired a tour guide to take us to The Great Wall of China.
We were very fortunate in that our guide, Snow, was very thorough and extremely knowledgeable in Chinese history. I truly enjoy learning and understanding about local cultures when I travel and Snow did not disappoint.

We learned about the different dynasties of Chinese history and why there was a need for the great wall. First, a staggering figure: The Great Wall is 5,000 kilometers long (more than 3,000 miles, roughly the expanse of the continental United States). It was built almost exclusively on the highest peaks around Beijing. The Great Wall protected the heart of China from invading nomadic tribes of the north, primarily Mongolian tribes. The peoples of the north were hunter/gatherers compared to the peoples of the south who were primarily farmers.

The Great Wall served to protect the less aggressive people of the south. To add perspective, 70% of modern Chinese are still of the peasant class (about 900 million people!).

The Great Wall is an amazing site to behold. What is more amazing is that this structure was built by hand, brick by brick. We climbed the wall and were able to see the different generations of bricks that were laid. The Great Wall was built and rebuilt from as early as 900 B.C. all the way to the 1600s when construction was finally abandoned.

The opening ceremonies took place this evening. Along with some others from the group who did not have tickets, I watched the ceremony from a big screen in the hotel. This was a spectacle that rivaled the Olympic opening ceremonies. It was absolutely spectacular. Future opening ceremonies will be hard pressed to top the grand theatrical productions that the Chinese put on.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Day 2: Arrival in Beijing

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

Arrival in Beijing: Beautiful modern airport.

The Olympic ads and banners have all been changed over to Paralympic banners. The Chinese have created a distinct symbol for the Paralympics distinguishing it from the Olympics.

The infrastructure is incredible. There are multilingual volunteers stationed all over to help people. There is a huge corps of young volunteers for both the Olympics and now the Paralympics. There is even a mascot for the Paralympics, a colorful cow. Driving from the airport, I was very impressed by the wide-open incredibly clean modern roads.

You see people periodically cleaning on the sides of the roads. There are Paralympic banners that span the entire length of the main road from the airport leading towards the Olympic village.

Once arriving at the Olympic village the first sight to grab you is the Bird's Nest, or Beijing National Stadium, site of the Opening and Closing Ceremoniees as well as the track and field events.

There is heavy security all around, making it difficult for cars to navigate close to the hotels. My hotel is across from the Olympic Village and I had to walk a good distance as they would not let my cab in to the complex.

The hotel is clean and orderly. The staff tries very hard to be accommodating to the many tourists. The staff's English is marginal at best but not for lack of trying. I met Melissa Stockwell’s parents and a portion of her fan club (20 in total!).

We all had dinner together and retired for the evening.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Day 1: Flight To Beijing

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

Flight to Beijing: No problems sleeping thanks to a previous week’s grueling schedule. I made a new friend on the flight by the name of Louis.

Louis lives in Aurora but was born in Beijing. He explained a lot of the history of Beijing to me. Beijing is an ancient city constructed in successive circles. The oldest circle begins at the center which is the Forbidden City, home of the emperors of China, which was ruled by emperors for millennia before the revolution of 1911.

Louis also helped me with some key words in Mandarin (the national dialect). Although I have my Berlitz book, Mandarin is different than English in many ways. One of the key distinguishing factors is the use of tones in the pronunciation of words. As an example cited in the book, the same word can mean four different things depending on how you emphasize the vowels.

Louis was nice enough to write the name and address of my hotel in Chinese characters so that I could show that to the cab driver when I arrived.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sight-Seeing At the Paralympic Games

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

Well, today's the big (travel) day. China, here I come.

Lately, when people have learned of my trip to the Paralympic Games, they ask if I’ll be doing much sight-seeing.

And the answer, of course, is yes. There’s no way I could go to such an historic land and not take in the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and some of the other landmarks there.

But I am also looking forward to seeing the hundreds of Paralympic athletes representing the many countries there. With world-class athletes in 20 sports, ranging from judo and wheelchair rugby to wheelchair fencing and archery, I will be surrounded by a mind-boggling lineup of talent and determination.

Every time I see amputee athletes, or amputees in general, there’s always something to learn and then try to apply to my work to help patients. I am going to make a special point of trying to see as many track meets as possible. I think it’ll be phenomenal.

My main focus will be rooting on Melissa Stockwell. Besides preparing herself physically and mentally for her swimming competitions, she's been amazing at keeping updated with her own blog. You ought to check it out here.

Reflections on Ron Mann

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

In July, I had the opportunity to watch one of my patients, Ron Mann, at an event called the Extremity Games.

A motorcycle crash in 1996, when Ron was 24, resulted in an amputation of his left leg below the knee.

Ron was a key organizer of the event, and the exhibition he put on there was truly amazing. He arranged for mixed martial arts fighters from all around the country to converge on a town called Waterford, Michigan, between Detroit and Lansing.

So there they were, with the cage they’d put up for the bouts, and Ron and the other competitors had the crowd completely riveted with the action.

It’s another example of amputees that are very much not held back by their disability but rather focused on what they are able to do.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Meet Jason Wening, Paralympic Champion

From David Rotter, Scheck & Siress prosthetist:

At Scheck & Siress, we are proud to be associated with U.S. Army Veteran Melissa Stockwell.

She has inspired so many people across the country.

And if she earns a medal at the Paralympic Games, she won’t be the only one at Scheck with that distinction.

Jason Wening, the clinical research director in our Oak Park office, is a five-time Paralympic Gold medalist (plus one Bronze medal) before retiring after the Sydney Games in 2000.

He still holds three Paralympic world records, in the 800- and 1500- meter freestyle and the 400-meter individual medley.

I see a lot of similarities between Jason and Melissa. Both are tenacious when it comes to competition. There is a very strong drive in both of them to excel. It's humbling to work alongside both of them.