Meet the teen athlete who's inspired bionics exhibit
Published Monday, May 26, 2014 9:40AM EDT
A Toronto teen born without a right foot has inspired an exhibit on 21st century bionics and prosthetics at the Ontario Science Centre.
Marissa Papaconstantinou, 14, is setting her sights on the 2016 Paralympic Games after years of playing team sports and running track.
Like her parents, Papaconstantinou started with soccer, but dabbled in basketball before finding her true love: track and field.
The teen runner has a stump at the end of her right ankle, and normally wears a flesh-coloured leg brace with a molded foot to help her walk.
In an interview Monday, she told CTV's Canada AM that she got fitted for a running blade when she finished Grade 6.
Running blades, hook-shaped black prosthetics usually made of lightweight carbon-fiber polymer, store the body's energy like a spring, allowing the wearer to run and jump as an ankle would.
The blades have no heel support in the back, as they are designed to replicate the quick movements of a runner’s stride on the balls of her feet. Users can buy detachable spike pads to turn the blades into cleats.
Papaconstantinou's blade was custom built for her, and she said it feels like a "regular leg" when she's running.
Most of the time, Papaconstantinou wears her flat-footed leg, but she also has a prosthetic with a pointed foot that allows her to walk in high heels.
While Papaconstantinou is, in many ways, a regular teen - wearing heels and playing school sports – she’s also an inspiration to others.
Papaconstantinou was called in to the Ontario Science Centre for a photo shoot and a short interview, but OSC Director of Science Content Mary Jane Conboy told CTV's Canada AM the conversation went much farther.
"She just was such an inspiration, so it just became really obvious that she should be the focal point of the exhibit."
Conboy wanted the exhibit to show how prosthetic limbs have changed in the last few years.
"People look at, say Terry Fox's run, and look at how that was a very big part of his athleticism and you could see that it was a challenge that he had to overcome. Prosthetics have changed so much since that time and it's more so that people can fully express their athletic ability and it's in so many different ways," she said.