What happens behind the scenes at the Paralympics? Chris Rushman offers a glimpse into his experience in the Ottobock wheelchair repair team.

Chris Rushman joined the Ottobock Paralympic wheelchair repair team at Rio 2016 to make sure equipment was ready for competition. Watching the Tokyo 2020 Games brings back memories of his experience…

We’ve been working with Ottobock for many years as partners and friends. They have a great vision for supporting the para sport movement – from the very top level of the company. And we share common values and goals in developing and supplying appropriate products all over the world to ensure every disabled person who needs a wheelchair can access one.

So, when I had the chance to join their Paralympics technical team at the Rio 2016 Games, I was really excited. It’s an incredible behind-the-scenes service provided by Ottobock to repair assistive technology, like wheelchairs, so that athletes can keep going and competing to achieve their dreams.


The team is a collection of specialist welders, fabricators, prosthetic and orthotic experts, production staff and technical experts who come from around the world. You have to apply to take part, so the thing that every person has in common is a real passion for para sport.

For me, it was an amazing chance to use my experiences as Motivation’s Technical Specialist in a completely new environment. Over the years, I’ve helped design and produce Motivation sports wheelchairs and I’ve worked in Motivation programmes around the world to learn and deliver technical repair training.

But now I was in a huge team of like-minded enthusiasts at the greatest international sporting event for disabled athletes. It was a real buzz. Even though we’d never met before, we were helping each other and cracking on with repairs and fixes as if we had worked together for years.

Given my experience with Motivation’s Multisport, I was mainly based in the wheelchair tennis, rugby and basketball arenas, as well as the main repair workshop in the Olympic Village.

  

It was hard work in long shifts that called on every bit of my technical knowledge! Some issues were easy to fix, like replacing worn components like bearings, tyres and upholstery. Others required a bit of creativity, stretching my experience to come up with viable solutions to problems on products I hadn’t seen before. And sometimes it was very tricky to make a fix, especially if we didn’t have the right parts or we were on a tight deadline to meet an event timing. The open, can-do approach of the whole team helping each other was vital at these points.

One thing that became clear quickly was the difference in quality of equipment being used by athletes, depending on which country they were representing.

Athletes from lower- and middle-income countries showed up to compete at the Paralympics in wheelchairs that were at a totally different performance level than their peers from higher income countries.

It was absolutely amazing that they could come so far in their sport with such limited access to elite equipment – a real testament to their talent and determination.

Our goal was to try to level the playing field in any small way, by making sure their wheelchairs were in as good condition as possible.

A really special memory for me is seeing an athlete from Ghana in his Motivation Flying Start. Although we designed and built that product as an entry-level racing wheelchair, this amazing guy had managed to get all the way to the Paralympics in this product, competing against others in elite machines that costs thousands of dollars. It was a proud moment for us – and for him, of course!

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games brings back great memories of those few weeks with Ottobock and their global repair team. Although many people have no idea that they exist, it’s such an important and special service.