Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – When Canada’s national wheelchair rugby team hits the court for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio this week, the athletes will be keeping cool in vests created by two Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) design alumni.
Product Design graduate Jaymes Williams and Fashion and Technology graduate Laura Hutchison were commissioned by the Canadian Sport Institute to make eight cooling vests for Canada’s elite wheelchair rugby players.
The vests started as a class project and soon blossomed into a passion for the designers after connecting with members of the team.
“These athletes are some of the most hardcore, inspiring individuals I have ever had the honour to meet and work with,” said Hutchison. “Before this research study, I wasn't a huge sports fan, but after meeting and working with the athletes, I quickly became a wheelchair rugby fan,” admits Hutchison.
Hutchison and Williams have been working on various iterations of the vest since 2014, when they initially connected as part of a design engagement course at KPU’s Wilson School of Design. Over the next two years, they met with the athletes several times and watched them in action at the Richmond Oval, and at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto in August 2015, where the team won gold.
The two designers were also among a group of post-baccalaureate students in technical apparel design who traveled last June to Maxport JSC’s research and development lab in Hanoi, Vietnam, where they worked with the Maxport team on the next version of the vest. The students received funding from the Wilson International Field Experience Fund for their trip to Vietnam, and from the Chip and Shannon Wilson Vision Execution Fund for their trip to Toronto. They also received support from KPU’s Office of Research & Scholarship.
“We knew from our research that athletes with spinal cord injuries have a difficult time controlling their body temperature, which means they can overheat while playing this sport that they love,” said Williams. “We wanted to help keep them doing what they love.”
While so-called “ice vests” exist in other sports, Williams’ and Hutchison’s design uses Phase Change materials, which lasts longer after it’s been cooled in the freezer and offers enhanced performance and function. Additionally, the vests have been fitted specifically for athletes who use wheelchairs.
“We know that other teams struggle to keep cool while playing,” said Andy van Neutegem, high performance director for the team. “Our players are fortunate to have Jaymes and Laura in our court helping to manage one of the challenges unique to Paralympians."
To cheer on the Team, the Wilson School of Design will be airing the Games live for students, faculty and staff on the Richmond Campus on Sept.14, 15 and 16.
Canada is currently ranked fourth in the world, but has been ranked as high as No. 1 this year. The team’s journey to gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games begins Sept. 14 when Canada takes on host nation Brazil.
About Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Kwantlen Polytechnic University has served the Metro Vancouver region since 1981, and has opened doors to success for more than 200,000 learners. Four campuses—Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley—offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs in business, liberal arts, design, health, science and horticulture, trades and technology, and academic and career advancement. Over 19,000 students annually have a choice from over 120 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates, citations and apprenticeships. Learn more at kpu.ca.
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