Motivational Monday: The Double Amputee Who Is Still Climbing

motiavationalmondayHugh Herr was recognized as one of the best climbers in the United States when he was only 17, but in 1982, he had a climbing accident that changed his life.

Herr and a companion were caught in a blizzard while climbing Mount Washington in New Hampshire. They became disoriented and spent three nights in a ravine before they were rescued. By the time Herr was rescued, he had suffered severe frostbite, and doctors had to amputate both of his legs below the knees.

"I'm titanium, carbon, silicon, a bunch of nuts and bolts," he told Fresh Air's Terry Gross, during a 2011 NPR interview. "My limbs that I wear have 12 computers, five sensors and muscle-like actuator systems that able me to move throughout my day."

Fast-forward 34 years from the accident, and Herr is now the director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab. After his amputations, he received degrees in mechanical engineering and biophysics from MIT and Harvard. Today, his team at the Biomechatronics Group creates prosthetics that feel and act like biological limbs. Their prosthetics allow amputees to continue participating in a variety of physical activities using different pairs of legs.

Herr uses the advanced prosthetics he helps design to continue climbing. For example, he has prosthetic feet that can stand on tiny rock edges, titanium-spiked feet that can climb ice walls, and legs that alter his height from five to eight feet.

Today, Herr is one of the leading experts in better limb prostheses and an even better climber than he was before his accident. He is also the first person with a major amputation to perform on par with elite-level, able-bodied competitors.

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