Gadget helping partially paralyzed ASU triathlete beat the odds

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

TEMPE, Ariz. -- An Arizona State University triathlete suffering from partial paralysis is beating the odds and competing again with the help of a little device no bigger than your iPod or cellphone.

“I never had a doubt I’d be out doing what I loved again,” said Allysa Seely, who is gearing up for a triathlon race, training with her team at ASU. “You can always go faster and you can always go harder."

It's the challenge and the camaraderie that Seely likes best.

“When you are out on the course, it doesn't matter where you are, there are always people telling you great job, keep going, you got this, just a little bit farther!”

And it's that spirit that has helped carry Seely through a rough four years.

“I was diagnosed with chiari malformation and basilar invagination. It's a congenital anomaly where the base of the skull and top of spine are formed incorrectly, essentially pushing the brain stem down to the spinal column,” Seely explained.

That caused some neurological damage that led to dystonia in Seely's foot, making walking, never mind running, hard to do.

"My way of life changed," she said. “I just kept telling myself tomorrow is a new day."

Refusing to sit still and unhappy with a brace that left her flat-footed, Seely risked injury, running on the side of her foot until last August when she was introduced to the Walkaide.

“It uses electrical stimulation to stimulate my nerves in my leg to make my foot flat so I can step on it when I run,” Seely said. “As soon as I take a step, it fires and goes back to where most people would say is normal.”

Typically this device is used to help stroke survivors, people with spinal-cord injury or cerebral palsy walk, so formatting it to keep up with Seely's six-minute mile pace was initially a challenge for Bret Bostock at Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics.

“The timing of the device is so unique and we have to make it fire at the right time, stop at the right time and reset to fire again,” Bostock explained.

After six months, they've finally got it.

“I never doubted it and I think that's what got me here today," Seely said.

Seely is now training for the Collegiate Nationals where she will compete in April with an ultimate goal of competing in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii as soon as 2014.