In 2014, we were a group of researchers working with technology for people with motor disabilities at the University of Brasilia. That was the first time we've heard about the Cybathlon, a competition featuring 6 categories based on technologies built for people with disabilities. Our feeling was unanimous: we had to be a part of it.
Path to Cybathlon
Our path to the competition featured technical, clinical, financial challenges. For all those challenges, we've found partners along the way that provided invaluable help.
The first challenge was to develop our own tricycle that enables cycling assisted by electrical stimulation for people with paraplegia. Although our technology was fully developed in Brasilia, we shared technical questions and decisions with Team Freewheels, from France. We had the opportunity to follow training sessions in Dijon, while they also visited us. Merci! Our French colleagues also qualified for the final competition. Check the pictures below!
Another fundamental partner was Cetefe, the main paralympic training center in central Brazil. They shared their knowledge and provided complete access to training facilities. It was also at Cetefe where we've met many potential athletes to Cybathlon and other protocols.
Finally, apart from the essential funding obtained from CAPES and CNPq for the scientific development of the project, we received direct financial aid through a crowdfunding campaign at Catarse. It was fantastic that so many worldwide honored us with their trust and confidence. Thanks a lot for the support!
Development and training
Many in the original group had previous experience on developing technology and clinical protocols based in electrical stimulation. But the road to Cybathlon presented new challenges. Lucas Fonseca, technological development leader, and Juliana Guimarães, expert physiotherapist, were vital in this process. Both have planned and implemented the necessary steps for validating the technology and, then, selecting the pilot who would be prepared for the competition.
After initial rounds of tests involving 14 athletes, Estevão Lopes was selected as the primary pilot for the competition. Estevão is an athlete competing in paralympic events, such as sailing, rowing, and weightlifting. But in all his sports activities he does not receive any support from his leg muscles due to his complete paraplegia.
Despite his training schedule in other sports and also professional commitments as a lawyer, Estevão engaged fully in his preparation for the cycling competition at the Cybathlon. His training started with basic sessions of isometric muscle contraction induced by electrical stimulation, and later evolved to mobile cycling assisted by electrical stimuli.
Weeks before the race, Estevão was building up his performance, moving from stationary to mobile cycling. His last training sessions in Brazil were focused on optimizing the skills needed to pilot the control system that was coordinately contracting his leg muscles to produce cycling movement.
We arrived in Zurich three days before the competition. While adapting to the colder climate of higher latitudes, we finally met team and pilots from different categories that participated in the Cybathlon competition. We successfully passed both medical and technological tests and prepared for the race that took place on the following day.
On the race day, the system worked smoothly, presenting no faults or malfunctions. At the first round, our team raced against BerkelBike UK. Estevão was one of the fastest pilots in the initial part of the race. He was using 3 stimulation channels in each leg. In a last minute decision, we have not applied stimulation to the hamstrings in order to reduce the level of spasticity. The spasms, however, still prevented a smooth ride, and Estevão could not complete the full 750-meters race. Nevertheless, he achieved the 8th best overall performance, classifying for the final round. While spasms were still occurring at the second and final round, Estevão once more presented a fast start. In the final ranking, Estevão achieved again the 8th overall position.