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You, too, can canoe

NRRI helps inventor develop paddle for one-arm use

Canoer using the One-arm freedom paddle. Photo submitted by C. Dillenschneider

Millions of people find solace with a canoe, a paddle and access to Minnesota’s abundant lakes, rivers and streams. Yet for those with upper body disabilities, a simple canoe paddle can be a barrier that keeps them from participating in this sport.

One woman set out to change that by inventing a paddle that is fully functional using one arm. The "One–Arm Freedom" paddle was born of Cindy Dillenschneider’s determination to share her love of outdoor recreation by making paddling more inclusive.

NRRI was able to help her move her idea forward with its rapid prototyping capabilities.

"I really appreciate the work that Steve [Kossett] did through NRRI’s prototype center," said Dillenschneider. "His work and encouragement were critical in moving the paddle to the next stage of development."

The tricky part to this new invention was the angle piece connecting a shaft from the shoulder saddle to the paddle. It had to be strong enough to take repeated pressure of heavy duty paddling. There was nothing like it already available.

"Steve helped create the design that would allow the specialty part to be made in production mode," she explained. "I made this piece myself with what’s called a ’lost wax’ casting process which took me over 20 hours per piece! NRRI’s lab was a significant time saver."

NRRI has four different rapid prototyping technologies which are ideal for small volume items. Once the design of a part is perfected, other manufacturing methods are generally more economical.

"We used our Fused Deposition Modeling machine with black ABS plastic to match the carbon fiber material that goes over the top," explained Kossett, NRRI’s prototype lab director. "I drew up a CAD (Computer Aided Design) model of the prototype she had made. We then quickly made about 20 models for actual functional testing and evaluation."

Dillenschneider doesn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur. As a professor of Outdoor Education at Northland College in Ashland, Wisc., her primary goal is to make outdoor recreation more inclusive. She isn’t quite prepared to give up teaching for the world of product design, marketing, product liability and production.

"It sounds easy enough to make a product and sell it, but there are a number of steps involved in getting a product to market," said Kossett. "Getting an effective prototype is just one essential step."

The One–Arm Freedom paddle will be manufactured and sold by Bending Branches in Osceola, Wisc., with assistance from Extreme Tool and Engineering in Wakefield, Mich.

"People with physical impairments spend so much time trying to figure out, ’how am I going to do this,’" she said. "A veteran in rehab at Walter Reed Hospital tried the paddle prototype and said how great it was to be an active participant in an outrigger canoe. To be able to just jump in and paddle."