How 3D Printing is Pushing Boundaries in Para Sports

pushing boundaries para sports

How 3D Printing is Pushing Boundaries in Para Sports

It’s one of those videos that makes your problems seem very small. Imagine leading an active lifestyle, working as a physiotherapist, competing in mountain biking events and, suddenly, having it all come to an end in a horrific accident.


After six weeks in a coma, Shelley Gauthier spent eight months in physical rehabilitation, needing to learn how to walk and talk again. The accident left Sheely suffering from hemiplegia, or one-sided paralysis, which affects the right side of her body.


Not one to sit still for long, as soon as she was able, Shelley got back into competitive sports as a disabled sailor. Her love of bike riding put her on the pedal again and Shelley became the first female T-1 rider in international para-cycling.

In the years since, Shelley has compiled an impressive record of accomplishments, including 14 world titles, including seven consecutive Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) world championships. She is a Paralympian, competing in the London 2012 Paralympics and bringing home a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics.


The Competitive Edge Made Possible by 3D Printing Technology

Looking forward to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Shelley says “I want to go to Tokyo and win a different coloured medal!” But to do that she needed a competitive edge. 

Shelley rides a road racing tricycle with the help of a leg brace and modified handlebars. Her riding leg brace evolved from a standard walking brace over many years and iterations. 

With only one custom-made brace, Shelley and her partner approached Proto3000 to replicate her leg brace and handlebars.  Shortly after they started to work, the Proto3000 design and engineering teams soon realized that, not only could they replicate the brace and handlebars, but they could make improvements on its performance characteristics.

According to Shelley, her previous brace “was very wobbly and the consistency wasn’t very good.” To correct the problem, the Proto3000 team had to increase the brace’s stiffness, but only in certain areas, so that it would be strong enough to eliminate the wobble and allow Shelley to apply more force to it, but flexible enough to allow her to get on and off the trike without assistance. 

The process of designing and developing Shelley’s new brace began with 3D scanning her original brace. The Proto3000 team then analyzed how Shelly rides, the areas of her legs she pushes and how she gets on and off the bike with only one leg. They worked with various 3D printer materials and various processes to achieve very specific performance goals, including strengthening certain areas and adding flexibility to others. 

It’s a process that’s only possible using 3D printing technology. Traditional design and manufacturing methods would be impractical or impossible because the resulting brace would be of a more consistent thickness and strength throughout.

Due to its excellent layer resolution, thin-wall capability and overall functionality of its output, the Proto3000 team chose their Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology as the one best suited for achieving their goals. They produced several iterations of the brace for Shelley, one of which met her approval in a big way.

We’ll let Shelley tell you what the new brace means to her. “The new 3D-printed brace is not as wobbly as the old brace and it’s able to take the energy I put in it right down

into my pedal. So the energy goes from my leg straight down through my pedal so

I’m pedalling harder and faster, and that will help me win!”

All of us here at Proto3000 are very proud of Shelley and we wish her all the good luck and best wishes in the world in her quest for gold at Tokyo 2020. 

Check out the video of Shelley’s story and how Proto3000 helped her develop her new brace “Go for Gold with Shelley Gautier: How 3D Technology Can Push Boundaries in Para Sports”.



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