Rice engineering students' projects helps Special Olympics gymnast go for gold


"Every day, she's saying I can do that myself and this is an opportunity to show that she can do it," said Butch Bouchard, Macy Bouchard's father.

Extending her legs and pointing her little toes, Macy is doing it.

"This gives her an opportunity to meet one of her goals, one of her dreams to be a gymnast and do it on her own," said Butch.

"I want to stay on it all day," added 10-year-old Macy.

Macy, who suffers some development delays and blindness in one of her eyes, is a Special Olympian who is anxious to show off her new contraption -- the *Beam Walker*

With every bar centered and every screw in place, the young athlete is putting one foot in front of the other on the balance beam by herself.

It's a lot of work for Macy.

"This will help me win gold medals," she said.

And it took lots of brain-storming for a group of freshmen Rice University engineering students.

"When they gave us this project, they asked us, 'How would you feel if someone had to feed you or help you walk or clothe you?" said Rice student Austin James. "And we didn't know how to feel about this."

But they knew how they felt about Macy's desire for independence, so they started calculating to make sure the invention would be safe.

"I was really able to see who I was helping," said Rice student Kylie Balotin. "I really wanted to help Macy out."

And practical.

"We decided that this walker would be the best choice because it was small and it really wouldn't take up a lot of space and it would be really familiar for Macy because she's used walkers before," said Rice student Kelsey Nanneman.

"It was just a wonder to me to have something work so well for Macy and I'm very happy that I got to be a part of this," said Rice student Mickyle Stanbury.

The beam-walker project is one of dozens on display at this year's Rice University Engineering Design Showcase. The invention was impressive for Professor Ann Saterback, who understands.

"My daughter also participates in Special Olympics and we haven't seen Special Olympics using a physical assistive device, so we're going to try it out and see how it works," said Saterback.

Meanwhile, Macy is attached

"Because it helps me walk," she said.

And her family is thankful.

"I thinks she's pretty much like any other sister, but she tries a lot harder than anyone else I know," said Macy's brother, Travis.

"She's worked hard all her life to overcome obstacles and this project is a demonstration of what a little innovation and a lot of hard work, what people with disabilities can do," said Butch.

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