MISSOULA – We often take mobility for granted, but some need a little help.
A new Missoula company and a foundation based in Florida have found a way to team up in a needed place. In the meantime, they’re also chasing greatness.
Engineer Marshall Neipert and technician Patrick Halseth met through their wives months ago. Soon they started producing prosthetic athletic blades in Missoula. Aerobionix is still mostly just the two men diving into a new market, but they found children, in particular, had a need for their product.
“There was not a good answer for pediatric sizes on the market,” said Halseth. “And so it was kind of something that we approached from the standpoint of, ‘Well, this will be something that we can do that nobody is really specifically going after.'”
Clinics all over the country are now contacting Aerobionix, looking for more prosthetic blades. That put the two in contact with another pair from the other side of the country.
Regas Woods and Nick Stilwell created the Never Say Never Foundation nine years ago with the aim to provide donated blades to children who couldn’t afford the prosthetic usually not covered by insurance.
“What kid doesn’t want to run?” said Stilwell. “Even though these insurance companies say it’s not necessary, that it’s a luxury item, I mean, come on. You can’t tell a kid it’s a luxury item to run.”
“We wanted to ease the financial burden off the parents and present the opportunity for kids with disabilities to excel and live a normal and social lifestyle,” added Woods.
Some of the newly made Aerobionix blades now end up with children found by Never Say Never, including one in Seattle this week. And the ride doesn’t stop there.
“We’ve gone from, I had never personally worked with carbon fiber, to working with Regas today in six or seven months,” said Halseth. “It’s been a roller coaster.”
Woods is also a world-class athlete. He took sixth place in the 200 meters and long jump at the 2016 Rio Paralympics and is currently the fastest above-knee amputee runner in the U.S. He made his first trip to Missoula to try a new Aerobionix prototype that could be golden.
“If this thing goes like it’s planned, then these will be what I will be running on in 2020,” Woods said with a huge smile. “So we’re going to shock the world, man. We’re going to do some great things.”
Never Say Never can provide free running blades because of donations and fundraising events.