- LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 2015 - VAN PHILLIPS -
"We're all equal on this world and so should be level of prosthetic care, especially if the loss is due to war or landmines. Just think it's every single step for the rest of one's life."
The 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner is Van Phillips, inventor of Flex-Foot running blade technology. Having lost his leg at the age of 21, Van refused to be restricted or defined by his circumstances. His innovation and tenacity created a product that continues to transform the lives of amputee athletes on a global scale. One idea – one sports business – has changed the world and one man has triumphed where many others would falter.
In 1976, after losing a leg in a water skiing accident, the limitations of available artificial limbs motivated Phillips to attend Northwestern University Medical School’s Prosthetic-Orthotic Center. After Graduation, he went on to work as a biomedical design engineer at the University of Utah before starting his own company, Flex-Foot, in 1984.
Phillips ultimately created an artificial foot made from carbon graphite. Unlike previous prostheses, it stored kinetic energy from the wearer’s steps that, like a spring, allowed the wearer to run and jump. Phillips’ C-shaped “Cheetah Foot” has propelled hundreds of Paralympian athletes to golds and roughly 90 percent of Parlympics participants as well as thousands of amputees around the world wear variation of Phillips’ original Flex-Foot design.
Philips received the Brian Blatchford Memorial Prize from the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics in 1998 and, in 2000, sold Flex-Foot. In 1997, he founded Second Wind Foundation, a non-profit devoted to improving performance and lowering costs of prosthetics. For the past fifteen years, he has worked to create inexpensive and resilient prostheses to serve amputees worldwide.
Hear blade users tell their stories in this remarkable video tribute to Van and his work.
Per the UN, landmines in more than 80 countries maim or kill nearly 20,000 annually and leave more than 5,000,000 amputees in their wake. Most amputees in developing nations not only lose a limb but their livelihood where heat, moisture and rugged terrain prove too harsh for virtually all technologically advanced prosthetics. Phillips has developed a prosthetic system that outperforms even competitive calibre limbs and yet can be used by prosthetists in remote regions. An automated manufacturing process will enable charitable organizations to supply legs at a price of ~$100 USD so that amputees, irrespective of environment, will not only regain their independence but enjoy the unparalleled performance experienced by their Western counterparts.
On a more personal level, Phillips’ technologically unique and innovative products have changed the face of prosthetics. What once evoked a stigma of “disabled” is instead seen as an icon of exceptional ability. Paralympian gold medallists are heralded in the media, inspiring others from not only their own countries but around the world. With amputees in developing nations able to wear the prosthetics they see worn by world-renowned athletes, the hope and pride experienced by those in the limelight will be shared by all.