NZ's blade runner hits ground running

By Kurt Bayer

19-year-old University of Canterbury commerce student, Liam Malone, who lost both legs at the age of two, trials his new running-blades for the first time on a treadmill. Photo / Martin Hunter.
19-year-old University of Canterbury commerce student, Liam Malone, who lost both legs at the age of two, trials his new running-blades for the first time on a treadmill. Photo / Martin Hunter.

New Zealand's own `blade runner' hit the ground running today in his attempt to become our fastest paralympian.

Liam Malone, a 19-year-old university student who lost both legs at the age of two, trialled new custom-made running-blades for the first time.

The high-tech US-made blades are fixed temporarily to a high-density plastic socket so Mr Malone can make adjustments before a permanent carbon fibre socket is created.

Today at University of Canterbury, where he's studying commerce, he eased into his new blades with help from researchers at the university's sports programme and a team from the Artificial Limb Centre at Burwood Hospital.

After a shaky start walking around on the springy fake legs, and saying he ``feels taller'', he was itching to get on the treadmill.

He was getting the technicians to slowly increase the pace, starting from a leisurely 2km/h, and rising to 9km/h.

"I've never really experienced anything like this before - the energy return is just crazy,'' Mr Malone said as he bounded along.

He found it difficult to speak while on the treadmill.

"I'm concentrating too hard. I'm not coordinated.''

A high-speed camera recorded his movements and helped the team study his biomechanics.

Graham Flanagan, national prosthetics manager at the New Zealand Artificial Limb Board, has worked with Mr Malone since he was two.

He helped analyse the footage and make small adjustments to the blades to help him feel more comfortable.

After three stints on the machine, Mr Malone called it a day, but was pleased with the progress.

"To get to where I am now is awesome,'' he said.

The Wakefield athlete was born with a condition named fibular hemimelia, which meant both of his legs had to be amputated below the knee when he reached the age of two.

He started skiing around the age of six and switched to snowboarding when he was 13.

But now, the sports-mad Mr Malone wants to be New Zealand's top sprinter at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.

The blades were donated by the manufacturer Ossur, while the associated costs with setting them up have been paid for by fundraising.

"I owe New Zealand a lot,'' he said.

He wants to repay the country by becoming the fastest disabled sprinter in the world.

Mr Flanagan who's seen him progress over the years thinks he can make it.

"It's a great goal and we'll give him all the support we can to get him there. It'll be a huge amount of hard work, but he certainly has the drive and desire to get there.''

- APNZ

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