Rice students help Special Olympian gain independence on balance beam

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HOUSTON, TX – “The whole world is a narrow bridge”, goes the song.  The important thing is not to be afraid.” Nobody knows it better than 10-year-old Macy Bouchard, a Special Olympian who suffers from developmental delays and blindness in one eye.

Thanks to a group of Rice University engineering students, Macy was able to make her way across a balance beam without any assistance.

“As a Special Olympian, she can perform every routine independently, for the most part, except for the balance beam,” said Austin James, Rice University mechanical engineering student. “In this case she needed some help. So we were tasked with coming up with an idea that would help Macy walk independently.”

As part of their freshman engineering design class, bioengineering majors Kylie Balotin and Kelsey Nanneman, chemical and biological engineering major Mickyle Stanbury and the above-mentioned James created a modified walker with a rectangular PVC frame and special wheels.  Macy holds the frame while balancing, and the wheels allow her to keep a straight line as she walks the beam. Ultimately, the device will remain at Biron Gymnastics, a West Houston gym that specializes in training Special Olympians, where Bouchard and other youngsters can use it to advance their skills.

This is what happens when you mix engineering and love. Small steps for a little princess, a giant leap for integration.