Virginia Western Community College students designing adaptive equipment for para-athlete

ROANOKE, Va. – Engineering students at Virginia Western Community College are teaming up with a nonprofit to create a sporting tool for a U.S. veteran and para-athlete, who recently made the U.S. Boccia National team.

For student Gavin Sweeney, this project means a lot to him.

“This project seems a little personal because I get to help a veteran. My grandfather was a veteran, and he passed away around when I was nine, but those last couple [of] years, I wanted to make his life all the more better and boccia ball I used to play with him and my grandparents’ cousins. So, this kind of worked out well for me when I found out that they needed someone else to join,” said Sweeney.

The students are creating a head and handstick for Para-athlete Dan Castillo. Castillo made the U.S. Boccia National team in October. Castillo is also a veteran. He served in the armed forces for six years and was medically retired as a quadriplegic with a C4 spinal cord injury. In addition to boccia, Castillo also plays power soccer. The tool that the students create will help Castillo play boccia.

Virginia Western Community College students are working with a nonprofit called Quality of Life Plus. This organization, which was created in 2009, works with different colleges and universities to help create assistive technology for disabled veterans and first responders.

“There’s sometimes a gap in what’s available and what an individual needs and so QLPlus, through this collaboration, can get something that works specifically for him,” said Program Manager Kristie Yelinek with Quality of Life Plus.

The students are deciding which design they want to use for the tool. They currently have about 70 conceptual designs. When they finish the design, they will create a prototype for Castilo. From there, the students will make the final product, which they hope to finish by April.

Students are not the only ones who felt compelled to help. Engineering Lab Manager Rick Henegar with Virginia Western Community College, who is also a veteran, wanted to lend a helping hand as well.

“My time in the service gave me a true appreciation for all the vets and for all they do, and so it’s my pleasure to give back,” said Henegar.

About the Author

Keshia Lynn is a Multimedia Journalist for WSLS. She was born and raised in Maryland and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law and Society from American University and a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

Recommended Videos