Winnipeg technology makes debut at Rio Paralympic Games

When Chantal Givens competed Sunday at the Rio Paralympic Games, she had a piece of Winnipeg along for the ride.
Chantal Givens tests out a prototype of the specially designed handlebar adaptation (in yellow) on her bicycle. (Courtesy Leon Fainstein)

When Chantal Givens raced Sunday at the Paralympic Games, she had a piece of Winnipeg along for the ride.

The three-time Canadian paratriathlon champion, who competed in the sport's Paralympic debut in Rio, was born missing her left hand.

In an effort to aid her grip on the handlebars of her bicycle, she turned to Leon Fainstein, a mechanical engineer at Red River College.

Using a 3D printer, Fainstein designed an adaptation to the handlebar that allows Givens to grip it differently so she can stand up on pedals or move into an aerodynamic crouch with ease. It also provides more control when going downhill, Fainstein said.
Leon Fainstein used a 3D printer to design and create the handlebar piece for Chantal Givens. (Courtesy Leon Fainstein)

While he worked out the final design, Givens trained with prototypes and qualified for the Games with one of those models.

"It was very exciting to be involved in this type of sport and at this level. It really was, and a little nerve-wracking as well," Fainstein said, noting one of the prototypes broke during a practice run.

Although the final model was designed with more strength — covered with carbon fibre and bonded to the handlebar — he was still on edge during the Paralympic debut.

"It's a little worrisome, from an engineering point of view, that you might be responsible for a catastrophic failure," said Fainstein, who modified a wheelchair for use in wheelchair basketball while he was a student in machine shop at Red River in the 1970s. 

He also recently modified one for a wheelchair sprinter who tried but wasn't able to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games.

Givens, who was born in Edmonton and has lived in Winnipeg since 2006, where she teaches physical education, finished eighth in the race.