Veterans ski in Boundary Waters' deep-freeze for science

By ALYSEE SHELTON | The Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune | Published: January 14, 2014

Wounded — not conquered. That’s the motto for 10 combat wounded and injured veterans who started the new year by tackling brutal subzero temperatures head-first for science.

They braved the bitter cold and went without other comforts to be a part of the research program that aims to improve how prosthetic limbs function for cross-country skiers.

“I like doing extreme things in subzero temperatures,” said Tanner Kuth, 33, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant. “This is not my first time. However, this time it will be for research.”

Kuth lost his left leg below the knee while on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The experiment’s subjects are part of a group called the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, which formed in 2010 and gives a means for wounded and injured veterans to participate in rehabilitative, high-adventure challenges to help further physiological, biomedical and pathological sciences associated with their injuries.

The veterans set out Jan. 2 to ski along the Banadad ski trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near Grand Marais. Three days later, they left Bearskin Lodge and traveled the Poplar Creek ski trail. The vets’ journey finished up on Jan. 7 at the Gunflint Lodge.

“The cold definitely presented a challenge,” said Kuth, a native of Florida. “Some people were almost injured, but we all made it fun.”

Chris Doggett, a master sergeant in the Air Force who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Saudi

Arabia, agreed that working in minus 50 temperatures wasn’t easy.

“I had no idea it could get that cold; I was shocked,” Doggett said.

Two students from Florida’s St. Petersburg College orthotic and prosthetic program conducted research developed for the lower limb amputees. The team took hours of video of the veterans cross-country skiing. The students did a study to compare and contrast a variety of prosthetic feet to classify certain design characteristics among each, so improvements can be made.

Arlene Gillis, orthotics and prosthetics program director at St. Petersburg College, said the main goal was to develop prosthetic foot designs that will better enable amputees to ski.

“I believe this research project was a success,” Gillis said. “The students found informative data, and they plan to analyze the data in the next 30 days.”

The veterans seemed pretty pleased with the challenge. They said they hope the St. Petersburg College students will find solutions to improve upon foot prosthetics designs soon.

“Overall this was a good experience,” Doggett said. “I made new friends and got to be a part of a useful research.”

Kuth agreed that it was nice spending time with the other veterans.

“We had a good time, everything was so put together,” Kuth said “It’s great to get out with other veterans. Times like this remind me of why I served.”


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